“Xi in Serbia” doesn’t quite have the ring of “Nixon in China”, and unlike the Nixon visit, it won’t have an opera based on it. But the Chinese leader’s visit to Belgrade this week is a sign of the times.

Some analysts say President Xi Jinping’s visit reflects his limitations in Europe. However, the week-long trip is not about limits – it’s about expansion.

On Wednesday, Xi and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić, signed an agreement to “build a new era of a community with a shared future between China and Serbia”. “Shared future” is Xi’s signature foreign policy phase. One interpretation is that it means interdependency for the good of humanity.  An alternative is that it’s a series of regional Chinese hubs with individual countries as the spokes connecting to the centre. Serbia is one such spoke. China wants to keep it that way.

In 2016, they signed a comprehensive strategic partnership, followed up with a free trade agreement last year, and are now strengthening the relationship. This sits uncomfortably with Serbia’s application to join the EU, but suits Beijing which is pulling a willing Serbia away from that path.