Serbia publicly showcased a recently delivered Chinese anti-aircraft missile system on Saturday, raising concerns in the West and some of Serbia’s neighbors that an arms buildup in the Balkans could threaten a fragile peace in the region. .
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 considered China’s largest arms airlift towards the Europe of history.
Although Serbia is officially seeking EU membership, it has mainly armed itself with Russian and Chinese weapons, including T-72 battle tanks, MiG-29 fighter jets, Mi- 35 and drones.
In 2020, US officials warned Belgrade against buying HQ-22 missile systems, the export version of which is known as FK-3, saying that if Serbia really wanted to join the EU and other Western alliances, it had to bring its military equipment up to Western standards.
The Chinese missile system has been widely compared to the American Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, although it has a shorter range than the more advanced S-300 system.
Serbia is the leading operator of Chinese missiles in Europe.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said at the end of the arms display at a military airport near Belgrade that the Chinese missiles, as well as other recently delivered military equipment, do not pose a threat to anyone and only represent a “powerful deterrent” against potential attackers.
“We will no longer allow [ourselves] to be a punching bag for anybody,” Vucic said, apparently referring to NATO’s 78-day bombardment of Serbia for its bloody crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999.
Serbia, which was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s, does not recognize the independence Kosovo declared in 2008.
It still maintains frosty relations with Croatia and Montenegro, members of NATO, as well as with Bosnia, whose Bosnian-Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik attended the military exercise on Saturday.
Serbia is negotiating the purchase of French Dessault Rafale multipurpose aircraft, as well as British Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, Vucic said.
Only “political obstacles” would prevent the purchase of the Western aircraft, he added.
Many people fear that Russia is pushing its ally Serbia into armed conflict with its neighbors in an attempt, at least in part, to divert public attention from the war in Ukraine.
Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. The final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.