The Serbian government welcomes Chinese companies as saviours of its economy, while citizens complain about Chinese investors for violating environmental rules, writes the New York Times.
“When Zijin purchased the previously state-owned smelter, after a different Chinese company bought an ailing steel plant near the capital, Belgrade, Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, hailed Chinese investors as his country’s saviors. Chinese money had kept afloat two of Serbia’s biggest but badly listing manufacturing enterprises, saving more than 10,000 jobs and fortifying what the two countries describe as their “friendship of steel.
For others, however, this friendship highlights the peril of transferring to Europe an approach to investment and its impact on locals that Chinese companies have employed in poorer regions of the world,” the New York Times writes.
“China is operating in Serbia the same way it did in Africa — it has the same strategy,” said Dragan Djilas, a businessman and former Belgrade mayor who now leads Serbia’s biggest opposition party. The linchpin of that strategy around the world has been to establish close relations with a local strongman — in Serbia’s case, Mr. Vucic, democratically elected but increasingly authoritarian in his ways,” the paper writes and adds:
“Mr. Vucic has become perhaps China’s biggest cheerleader in Europe. He has brushed aside complaints about its business practices and declared China, which has not only invested hundreds of millions of dollars but also provided millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, to be “the only ones who can help us.”
Marinika Tepic, an opposition politician has a different view of the Chinese influence in Serbia and says that China is also helping to build a police state in Serbia, writes the New York Times.
“In January, 26 members of the European Parliament demanded a review of the “growing impact of China’s economic footprint in Serbia,” including “reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population,” the paper adds.
“Pollution from the Bor plant skyrocketed to many times the legally permitted level in 2019 and 2020, setting off a series of street protests and prompting Zijin Mining’s general manager in Serbia to tell his managers last October that he was “very dissatisfied” with the “frightening” level of pollution, according to leaked minutes of the meeting. He blamed the bad publicity, which he said had damaged “the government of the People’s Republic of China,” on “people who are in favor of the West and receive support” who “have stood in opposition to our work.”
The newspaper also warns that Milenko Jovanovic, an air pollution expert, said he was fired in November from Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency after raising concerns about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air around Bor.
The government, he said, rejected anything that might upset China and its investors. “It lets them do whatever they want to do,” he said.
(Radio Free Europe, NYT, 28.03.2021)
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