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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade
"It's a friendship with mutual benefits"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 13:05 GMT
China is Serbia's new best friend
Serbian women do business with Chinese trader in Belgrade
Serbian women do business with Chinese trader in Belgrade
By Jacky Rowland in Belgrade

Serbia has been dealing with its international isolation by cultivating new foreign friends: the Chinese.

There is a thriving Chinese community in Serbia, numbering tens of thousands, with more arriving each week.


Chinese diplomats survey embassy ruins following bombardment
Chinese diplomats survey embassy ruins
The friendship between China and Serbia was sealed last year by Nato's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

However, it is not without controversy. Some Serbian opposition leaders accuse the government of selling citizenship to the Chinese in exchange for hard cash, or for votes in elections.

Belgrade's Chinatown

A corner of Belgrade has turned into an unromantic sort of China town.


Chinese market: Seeds of a China town in Belgrade?
Chinese market: Seeds of a Chinatown in Belgrade?
Hundreds of immigrants, most of them from China's poorest province, have set up shop here, hoping to find the streets of Belgrade paved with gold.

Their wares - cheaply made Chinese goods - find a ready market with Serb customers.

Gu Lijun is a recent arrival. She and her husband opened a shop after arriving in Serbia six months ago.


Gu Lijun and her husband are recent arrivals
Gu Lijun and her husband are recent arrivals
Not all their experiences have been positive. Gu was mugged recently.

Despite this bad experience, they say that they are in Serbia to stay.

"I think it is much easier than in China because in China there are too many people doing business."

Turning point: Chinese embassy bombing

Last May, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by Nato. This was a turning point for the Chinese.

China has accepted an offer of compensation, but still insists the bombing was deliberate.



The big solidarity that existed already between the people of China and Yugoslavia and the government of China and Yugoslavia was strengthened by this really incomprehensible bombardment

Rade Drobac, Yugoslav Foreign Minister
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Rade Drobac says the Chinese, along with the Serbs, see themselves as victims of Nato.

"The big solidarity that existed already between the people of China and Yugoslavia and the government of China and Yugoslavia was strengthened by this really incomprehensible bombardment," explains Mr Drobac.


Oppositiion: Mr Milosevic hopes the new arrivals will vote for him
Opposition: Mr Milosevic hopes the new arrivals will vote for him
"So that is the basis of our mutual good relations and our mutual interest of co-operation - political, economic, cultural and any other."

It is a friendship with mutual benefits. Yugoslavia has received soft loans and diplomatic support.

For China there are new markets - and the chance to be a thorn in the side of the West.

Votes for citizenship?

The Chinese are a worry to some Serbian opposition leaders, says Dragan Veselinov of the Serbian Opposition.


Chinese appetite for Serbia is insatiable
Chinese appetite for Serbia is insatiable
They say President Milosevic has given citizenship to thousands of Chinese immigrants - gambling that they will vote for him in elections.

"Chinese immigrants may change our ethnic structure, political structure."

The Chinese seem to have an insatiable appetite for Serbia. Every week, hundreds of new recruits arrive on flights from Beijing.

The Chinese community may not be Serbia's oldest ethnic minority - but it is becoming one of the most important.

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14 May 99 | Kosovo
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