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Xi begins Serbia visit on the 25th anniversary of NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping Tuesday’s visit to Serbia, a European ally, falls on a symbolic date: the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the NATO air war over Kosovo.

U.S. planes dropped five bombs on the Chinese embassy compound in the Serbian capital on May 7, 1999, setting it on fire and killing three Chinese nationals. Twenty other people were injured in this attack which has since weighed on relations between the two powers.

Xi referred to the attack in an editorial published Tuesday in the Serbian newspaper Politika, saying that “we must not forget that 25 years ago today, NATO brazenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia,” according to translations published by Chinese state media.

“The Chinese people value peace but will never allow historical tragedies to happen again,” Xi added.

The Western military alliance launched the air war in March that year to force Slobodan Milosevic, then a Serbian strongman, to end a brutal attack on ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo.

The United States then apologized and said the embassy bombing was a mistake due to faulty intelligence. The intended target, Washington said, was the headquarters of a Serbian state arms exporter located on the same street, a few blocks away.

“Imagine that someone hits, even by accident, an American embassy somewhere in the world. The reaction would be immediate,” said Sven Biscop, professor of European foreign policy and security at Ghent University and the Egmont Institute.

“So for a country like China, it’s also clear that this is an important thing,” he added. “And of course, that hasn’t been forgotten.” »

Angry protesters in China stormed US diplomatic facilities as the bombing fueled anti-US sentiments and speculation that the attack was intentional rather than accidental. Distrust of the incident continues to this day.

“We’ll probably never know really conclusively,” Biscop said. “But one thing is for sure. In times of war, such incidents happen, and I generally tend to favor the simplest explanation rather than trying to invent complicated theories.

While straining Beijing’s relationship with the United States, the embassy bombing brought China and Serbia closer together. China has become Serbia’s largest supplier of foreign direct investment and its second-largest trading partner after the European Union.

Beijing opposed the NATO bombing campaign and has since supported Belgrade’s attempt to counter the independence drive of Kosovo, a former Serbian province backed by the West. In return, Serbia has been a staunch ally of Beijing and has opened its doors unrestrainedly to billions of dollars of Chinese investment, even as it formally seeks EU membership.

“The friendship forged in blood between the people of China and Serbia has become the common memory of the two peoples and will inspire the two sides to move forward together,” Xi wrote. “We are ready to work with our Serbian friends to remain true to our original aspirations, join hands for progress, write a new chapter of national development and revitalization, and build a Sino-Serbian community with a shared future with a common destiny for the humanity in the new era.

Signs of pro-China sentiments were clearly visible before Xi’s visit on Tuesday and Wednesday. In Belgrade, a huge Chinese flag was placed on a skyscraper along a road leading into the city from the airport. Smaller Chinese and Serbian flags were visible in the city center and along a highway.

Serbian Air Force MiG-29 planes escorted Xi’s presidential plane to Belgrade airport.

Xi has arrived of France and will then travel to Hungary as part of his first European tour in five years.

He is expected to visit the site of the former embassy and pay tribute to the victims of the bombings. A Chinese cultural center now stands where the embassy once stood.

The vast complex would include a Confucius Institute, workshops, exhibitions, offices, residential spaces and a hotel. It is seen as a symbol of China’s growing influence in Serbia and throughout Europe.

Near the institute, a group of Chinese visitors bowed last weekend before a simple black marble monument and laid flowers in honor of the victims of the 1999 attack. An inscription on the monument in Chinese and English says: “Honor the martyrs, cherish the peace.”


Associated Press writers Sylvain Plazy in Brussels and Christopher Bodeen in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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