China’s dream of building its first European railway took a step closer this week when China and three Eastern European leaders agreed to build an express line from Skopje in Macedonia to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, a distance of approximately 640km.
Chinese media said the plan was eventually to link Budapest to the Greek port of Piraeus, though Greece was not party to the agreement signed on 17 December by Chinese premier Li Keqiang and his counterparts from Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia.
The 400km link between Belgrade, capital of Serbia, and Budapest will cost $3.1bn and is to be financed by the China Development Bank and delivered by Chinese state-owned enterprises, reported the Associated Press.
It will cut travel time between the Serbian and Hungarian capitals from eight hours to less than three, AP said.
Trains will travel at 160km/h and the line will be running by the end of 2017, English language Hungary Today reported.
Premier Li visited Serbia this week, holding what Chinese media called a "flurry" of meetings with leaders from central and eastern European countries to promote cooperation on infrastructure and trade.
Xinhua news agency said Li "expects Hungary to provide sound policy and stable business environment for Chinese companies, and simplify visa procedures and facilitate work permit process for Chinese workers".
As for Macedonia, Li said he hoped the country "can offer more policy support and convenience to the construction of the express passage, so that the route can benefit Macedonia and other countries along it at an early date," Xinhua reported.
The idea for a Chinese-built rail link between Belgrade and Budapest was first raised last year.
Photograph: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (front left) reviews a guard of honour with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic before talks in Belgrade, Serbia, 17 December (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)