In Serbia, Xi Jinping skips site of 1999 Nato bombing in ‘calculated move’ to not stoke tension with West

by Shi Jiangtao at

A decision by President Xi Jinping not to visit China’s former embassy in Belgrade on the 25th anniversary of Nato’s bombing of the site has been described as a “calculated move” to avoid stoking tensions with the US-led West.
The omission from Xi’s itinerary of the bombing site, which he toured during his first state visit to Serbia in 2016, came as a surprise to many watching the Chinese leader’s trip to Serbia this week.

Three Chinese journalists were killed when US-led Nato used missiles to attack the embassy in Belgrade on May 7, 1999, prompting a major crisis between Beijing and Washington, which the latter insisted was a “tragic mistake”.

Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper Study Times, said Xi’s no-show at the bombing site was due, in part, to his tight schedule during the Serbian visit.

“But, of course, it also shows Xi does not want to overly irritate the US, or put his Serbian hosts in a difficult position,” he said. “If Xi went ahead with a speech commemorating the anniversary on top of a much-anticipated visit to the site, the European Union would probably put pressure on Serbia.”

While Serbia is seen as one of the most China-friendly countries in Europe, especially after Nato’s bombing of the former Yugoslavia between March and June 1999, it is one of the six Western Balkan countries applying for EU membership.

Shen Dingli, an expert on international relations in Shanghai, said Beijing obviously did not want to embarrass Belgrade, which “would join the EU and Nato sooner or later”.

“It is clear that China does not want to further alienate itself at a time when Beijing has already edged closer toward Russia during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said.