China confirmed today that it has supplied weapons to Serbia, calling it “regular military supplies”. This is the first comment by the Chinese side on the news that Serbia has received missiles in a semi-secret delivery with flight path over Bulgarian air space, the AP reported.
Earlier, that six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed in Belgrade early Saturday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that the operation was part of the two countries’ annual cooperation plan, not aimed at third countries, and “has nothing to do with the current situation.” Zhao did not give more details.
The arrival of the planes has sparked serious speculation that they are carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missiles under the terms of a previous agreement signed between the parties.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic almost confirmed the delivery of medium-range systems agreed in 2019, saying on Saturday that he would present the “latest pride” of the Serbian army on Tuesday or Wednesday, the AP added.
The veiled operation took place this weekend amid Western fears that the accumulation of weapons in the Balkans at a time when war is raging in Ukraine could threaten the region.
Serbia and China have long maintained strong ties, in part because of common attitudes toward Washington. Serbs resent NATO’s 1999 air operation during the Kosovo conflict, which defeated the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. NATO called the incident, which sparked violent demonstrations in Beijing, a mistake – an explanation that China and many other countries have long rejected.
Although it claims to be neutral, China has largely sided with Russia in the conflict in Ukraine, and many Serbs sympathize with Moscow. Although Serbia has voted in favor of UN resolutions condemning Russian attacks on Ukraine, it has refused to join international sanctions against Moscow’s allies or openly criticize Russian troops there.
The apparent supply of weapons to Serbia through the territories of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, was assessed by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach, the AP added.
The weekend’s flights “could be the largest overseas operation of China’s major transport aircraft to date, demonstrating the country’s strategic transport capabilities,” the Communist Party newspaper told the Global Times on Monday, citing Chinese analysts in the field of defense.
The Y-20, first delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in 2015, has been used in missions abroad before, including sending 105 members of the People’s Liberation Army’s honor guard to Russia’s Victory Day parade in 2020 in Moscow, as well as flights near Taiwan’s airspace aimed at testing the island’s defenses and intimidating its democratic government.
There are fears in the West that arming Serbia from Russia and China could encourage the Balkan country to embark on a new war, especially against its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize Kosovo’s statehood, while the United States and most Western countries recognize it.
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