China’s defense minister visited Serbia on Friday to boost military cooperation as part of his tour of Beijing’s eastern European allies amid a widening rift with Western powers.
After Hungary, Defense Minister Wei Fenghe met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and other officials in Belgrade and watched military exercises.
“We are convinced that this visit is a further confirmation of the ‘steel’ friendship and strategic partnership between Serbia and China, as well as a sign of its deepening in all areas,” President Vucic said in a statement, adding both countries were ready to deepen military engagement in economic, educational and medical areas.
Wei was in Belgrade — a loyal ally in Europe — as Beijing is fighting back against sanctions from the European Union and Britain over its alleged abuse of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.
Beijing, which insists Xinjiang is an “internal affair,” has gone into attack mode, imposing sanctions on individuals from the EU and Britain who have taken up the Uyghur cause.
Serbia is an aspiring EU member but still keeps close ties with China. Over the past year, it has lavished praise on the country for its help during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Balkan state was the first in Europe to roll out China’s Sinopharm jab, which it secured in large quantities to kick off an impressive vaccination effort.
Serbia was also the first in Europe to order Chinese-made drones last year.
After Belgrade, Wei was to visit Greece and North Macedonia, two other members of the 17+1 grouping of eastern and central European countries China has courted with investment projects.