By Andrew Thornebrooke of The Epoch Times
Six Chinese military aircraft transited the airspace of Turkey and Bulgaria, both of which are NATO members, on April 11 to deliver missiles to Serbia, a key ally of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia.
The move is likely to be regarded as a display of force, as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic previously had said that NATO refused to let the shipments of Chinese weapons cross through the airspace of its member nations.
The Y-20 cargo planes delivered the anti-aircraft weapons systems to Serbia via the civilian Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade.
The FK-3, which is the export version of China’s domestic HQ-22, is a ground-to-air missile system that is frequently compared to the United States’ Patriot missile system. It can reach speeds of about six times that of sound (Mach 6) and has a range of about 93 miles. One system includes 12 missiles dispersed among three launch vehicles and a separate radar vehicle.
Notably, the Chinese aircraft flew together in mass formation rather than one at a time, and used state-of-the-art MLat (multilateration) tracking systems instead of the more traditional radar. Open-source intelligence analysts also noted that at least some of the aircraft had removed the coverings for their flare and chaff countermeasures—defensive systems to help evade missile attacks—possibly signaling that the Chinese aircraft either anticipated meeting some resistance or wanted to be seen as anticipating resistance.
The shipment will allow Serbia to become the first user of Chinese missiles in Europe, and will augment an already expanding arsenal of Chinese and Russian drones, tanks, and warplanes purchased by the nation in recent years.
The incident underscored Western fears that further arms buildup in the region could erupt into conflict as Russia continues to wage its war on Ukraine, and both Chinese and Russian leaders promote their own forms of authoritarian expansionism.
Serbia is currently seeking membership into the European Union, amid concern by some to be preparing for war with its neighbors in the Balkans, particularly Kosovo.
Serbia and its neighbors were locked in a number of bitter wars throughout most of the 1990s, during which reports of ethnic cleansing were rampant. The wars reached a bloody crescendo with the 1999 NATO bombardment of Serbia (then Yugoslavia), which resulted in the deaths of some 500 civilians and the destruction of vital infrastructure and cultural monuments.
In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, and subsequently expressed a desire to join NATO. However, China, Russia, and Serbia have refused to acknowledge Kosovo as a legitimate nation.
With that history in mind, Kosovo’s former President Hashim Thaci accused Serbia of plotting a Crimea-like annexation of parts of the territory in 2017, before stepping down to face a war crimes tribunal for acts he allegedly committed during the Yugoslav Wars.
Serbia’s relationship with China and Russia remains somewhat uneven, however. On one hand, the nation voted in the U.N. to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while refusing to join international sanctions against Moscow or to issue any further criticism of the Russian troops there.