The fate of the city is now connected to China. “If the Chinese did not acquire it, we will be in chaos here,” said Smeder Revo resident Stogel Ikovic. In the 1990s, the steel mill was in trouble. Later, it was first acquired by US Steel in 2003 for $33 million. In less than 10 years, in the shadow of the global economic crisis, steel mills sold to the Serbian government at a nominal price of $1. In 2016, China’s Hegang Group, a state-owned steel company, acquired the steel mill at a relatively high price of $52 million and promised to invest another tens of millions of dollars in the future. According to the census data conducted in 2011, Smederevo has 66,000 inhabitants and currently has about 5,000 people working in the steel mill.
In Serbia, which claims to be “the best friend of China in Europe,” this is only a small part of the rapidly growing Chinese investment. The friendship between the two countries is getting closer and closer. According to data from the US Embassy in Belgrade, since 2011, the Chinese government has invested about $4 billion in Serbia, most of which comes from state-owned enterprises, which is roughly equivalent to the US investment in this western Balkan country. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Mikhailovich said in July that China has pledged to provide the country with another $5 billion in loans to participate in regional infrastructure projects, including major upgrades to the country’s roads, railways and industry.
At the doorstep of the European Union, the United States and Europe are watching the growing footprint of China in Serbia. As part of Belgrade’s “Safe City” program, Huawei, the most censored Chinese company and the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, is installing surveillance cameras locally. Huawei also plans to establish a 5G network in Serbia.
Economically, most of Serbia’s exports depend on the European market, and most of its investment comes from Europe. At the same time, however, many Serbs have never forgiven the US and European bombings during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. Today, some of the buildings that were destroyed in this war are still empty. One of the remains is the original site of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
Today, at the original site of the embassy, Europe’s largest Chinese cultural center is under construction. The 8-storey mega-building covers an area of 6,000 square meters and consists of four separate areas – the cultural center, the embassy apartment, the business reception area and the office space. Nowadays it has become a tourist attraction, and the plaques of the China-Serbia Friendship Square are surrounded by flowers brought by Chinese tourists.
Like some (European) cities, Chinese police will soon begin patrolling the streets of Belgrade to cope with the growing number of Chinese tourists. In Belgrade, the presence of Beijing is much closer than the actual distance of 4,600 miles.
It is expected that China wants to rise. As a country, China has 17 centuries in the past 21 centuries as the world’s largest economy. This is the normal state of history. It was not until the last two centuries that China was economically overtaken by Western countries. After opening to the world 40 years ago, China is like an economic rocket that ignited.
We should reduce our concerns about China’s rise, but we should concentrate on ensuring that it does not come at the expense of the demise of the United States. What needs to be clear is that our two governments need to work together to solve some problems – from intellectual property to unfair trade practices. Even so, complaining that China is not the way to victory. Simply discrediting China and treating China as the bad guy of our election year is not a strategy or plan.
We lack a strategy that does not hinder the containment of China, but rather advances Michigan and the United States as a whole. The wise beginning is to invest in areas that make us strong, such as education, workforce training, research and development, infrastructure transformation, and technology, especially big data and artificial intelligence.
China has consistently invested in stable and sustained infrastructure, built and improved roads, bridges, railways, airports and seaports, and adopted technologies including artificial intelligence and big data, with a focus on education and workforce training. In contrast, Michigan and the United States have been reducing investment to make us a strong area. China’s greatest achievement is to get more Chinese out of extreme poverty, and the number of people out of poverty exceeds the total population of the United States.
We need American leaders to communicate with us and call on people to be designers of our common future – not as victims. Whenever I hear complaints about China, I will ask: “What about that?” What is our solution? How will we ensure competitiveness in the face of global economic challenges?
In the 21st century, we cannot ignore the world’s fastest growing economy, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s population. At present, China, which ranks second in the world in economics, is working harder and investing more than ever, and is determined to stand on the peak of the world economy.
US-China relations are the most important bilateral relationship in the world today. Therefore, our relationship with China must remain respectful in the future. If the income from one country must be viewed from the perspective of the loss of another country, the relationship between the two countries cannot continue. Our leaders should change course and effectively open up the way forward to ensure mutual respect and interests between our two countries and the rest of the world.