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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The reconstruction of the railway line between Serbia and Hungary, a project financed mostly by China and its “new Silk Road” initiative to expand commercial ties with Europe, Asia and Africa, was inaugurated Tuesday by Chinese and Serbian officials.

The symbolic launch of the project on the outskirts of the Serbian capital of Belgrade took place on the same day Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was meeting in Budapest with the prime ministers of both countries, Serbia’s Ana Brnabic and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Construction machines removed parts of an old Serbian railway and the initial stretch of the project in Serbia is expected to be completed in three years, carried out by Chinese companies in line with European Union standards. The segment in Serbia is expected to cost $2 billion, while the latest estimates for the Hungarian section stand at $1.8 billion.

Brnabic said she was hopeful that the railway project would help Serbia “establish itself as a central hub of this part of Europe.”

Orban has called the upgraded railway, which has been criticized by Hungarian opposition parties as too expensive and more important for China than Hungary, the “flagship project” of China’s efforts to increase its presence in the region.

Speaking at a press event with Li after the two countries signed numerous investment and trade agreements, Orban said the region needed Chinese capital to grow.

“We would need to carry out numerous investments for which there is not enough capital in the Hungarian economy or in the European Union,” Orban said. “That is why we are financing the Budapest-Belgrade railway line with Chinese assistance.”

Li reiterated his view that the deals between China and the 16 Eastern European countries which took part in the “16+1” summit in Budapest would “shore up the weak links in globalization.”

“I want to emphasize that cooperation between China and central and eastern European countries is good for the healthy development of globalization,” Li said. “We should not be afraid of the negative effects of economic globalization. We are still committed to multilateralism and support of free trade.”


Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.