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China plays big role in deal signed during 16+1 summit

A deal for a new high speed railway line between the Serbian capital Belgrade and the Hungarian capital Budapest was signed during the 16+1 Summit. Serbian officials say the contract will boost the region’s economic growth, and one of China’s largest transport firms will be involved.

Among the many agreements signed in Latvia on Nov 5, this appears to have been at least one of the biggest. Commercial contracts signed and some financing secured for a 500 kilometre-long high speed railway to link Belgrade and Budapest. Premier Li Keqiang made special mention of the project during his speech at the 16+1 summit.

“We would like to promote the development of Budapest — Belgrade rail link and China — Europe land-sea express line so as to forge transport arteries running through the CEE region. We also support the development of transport corridors between Asia and Europe: we want to increase China — Europe freight train services,” Premier Li said.

This is the current line with an end to end journey time of some 8 hours. The vision is for a passenger and freight route that could cut that to just 2 and a half.

On top of that, a $233.6m agreement that will see a Chinese firm involved in redeveloping this highway between Serbia and Montenegro.

No detailed timelines have emerged publicly yet, but Serbian officials seem keen to get started.

“Serbia is a small country, it has its very good position in this area. It has some benefits from the project that can be implemented — all the transportation, infrastructural projects are benefiting not just the economy of Serbia but the region itself as a whole,” Danijela Cabarkapa, director of Servian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

All that handshaking appears to have paid off.

The total value of contracts signed between Serbia and China on Nov 5 came to $800 million. Belgrade, like other country delegations here, sees such investments in infrastructure projects as a way to boost its own economic growth and access international markets, including China’s.