'Display of military power': Serbia shows off new Chinese missiles amid concerns in Balkans
Serbia on Saturday (April 30) showed off its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West.
It comes the country seeks to perform a delicate balancing act over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Let's take a look:
Members of the public and the media were invited to the display at the Batajnica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles were lined up beside Airbus helicopters, Chinese-armed drones and Russian MIG-29 jets.
Serbian Army soldiers
Serbia is striving to balance its partnership with NATO and aspirations to join the European Union with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia. It is currently the only European country to operate the Chinese missile system and CH-92A combat drones.
Belgrade has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it. Serbia's military is loosely based on ex-Soviet technology and Russia is one of its main suppliers. Belgrade is also dependant on natural gas and oil supplies from Russia.
The Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defence system, similar to Russia's S-300 or the US Patriot system, was purchased by Belgrade in 2019 and delivered earlier this month.
The delivery of the FK-3 missile system prompted several Western countries, including Germany, to warn Belgrade it expected the Balkan country to align its foreign policy with the EU if it wanted to become a member.
Chinese Air Force Y-20
The sophisticated HQ-22 surface-to-air system was delivered last month by a dozen Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes in what was believed to be the largest-ever airlift delivery of Chinese arms to Europe.
Wang Yi and Aleksandar Vucic
Serbian officials praised their “steel friendship” with China during talks with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi amid fears in the West that by heavily investing in the Balkan state, Beijing is trying to exert its political influence in that part of Europe.
Serbia, a European Union candidate country, and China have rapidly intensified economic and political relations in recent years, with Chinese companies taking over Serbia’s main copper and steel mills and building roads, factories and railway lines.
Chinese state banks have granted billions of dollars in loans to the Balkan country for the construction projects that are mostly conducted by Chinese workers.
China, which considers Serbia a major entry point to Europe for its Belt and Road economic and political initiative, has also been exporting drones and other military equipment to Serbia, as well as increasing police and state security cooperation.
Between 2005 and 2019, China is estimated to have invested about $10 billion in Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
President Aleksandar Vucic toured Saturday's display flanked by military commanders and watched an aerobatics show featuring overhauled MIG-29 jets donated by Russia in 2017. "I'm proud of the Serbian army, I'm proud of a great progress," Vucic told a news conference.
"We're going to significantly strengthen our fighter air force ... Serbia is a neutral country and Serbia must find solutions enabling it to preserve its sky and its state."
Vucic said Serbia expects to purchase 12 Rafale multipurpose fighter jets from France by the end of the year or early next year, a move seen by political analysts as a sign of Belgrade distancing itself from Russia.
He said Serbia is also negotiating to buy 12 Typhoon combat aircraft from Britain.