Chinese military delivery to Serbia boosts Balkan tensions
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the planes’ arrival was part of a bilateral annual cooperation plan.
There is an assumption the planes delivered medium-range HQ-22 surface-to-air missiles under a 2019 deal and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he will unveil “the newest pride” of Serbia’s military this week.
The missile system is compared to the US Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles although it has a shorter range than the latest S-300s. The Chinese missiles are not used elsewhere in Europe.
Nato has expressed concern about an arms buildup in the Balkans amid the Ukraine war.
Serbia has been acquiring other Russian and Chinese weapons, including planes, tanks and other equipment.
In 2020, Chengdu Pterodactyl-1 or Wing Loong combat drones were delivered by China.
Serbia and China have strong ties, partly over a shared distrust of the US and anger over Nato’s 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Nato said the bombing was a mistake but Beijing rejects the explanation.
Vucic also said Serbia plans to purchase Rafale fighter jets from France, which was seen as a possible attempt to distance Serbia from Russia.
Serbia has applied to join the European Union and faces western pressure to cut ties with Moscow.
“We have been negotiating this purchase of 12 new jets for a year, and we are also looking at buying another 12 used planes from another country,” Vucic said this week.
Milan Karagaca of the Centre for Foreign Policy in Belgrade and a former military attache to Nato said: “The fact that the planes are made by France could indicate Serbia … has disconnected itself from Russia’s military technology … politically it is a signal of approaching closer to the EU.”
In 2019 Serbia bought France’s Mistral surface-to-air missiles and in 2016 it acquired helicopters from Airbus.
Serbia has voted in favour of three UN resolutions condemning the Russian war in Ukraine but it refuses to join international sanctions against Russia and has not openly condemned the invasion.
It is feared a newly armed Serbia might threaten its former province of Kosovo which proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia, Russia and China do not recognise Kosovo, in contrast to the United States and European Union members.
Serbia’s military intentions are unknown. Picture credit: Wikimedia