Xi to visit Belgrade near anniversary of embassy bombing

President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Belgrade around the 25th anniversary of the deadly US bombing of the city’s Chinese embassy, spotlighting an event that sparked anti-US protests at home and helped seed Beijing’s mistrust of Nato.

The Chinese leader will stop in Serbia on or close to May 7, according to people familiar with the preparations, who asked not to be identified because timings have not been made public.

During the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, US missiles killed three Chinese journalists in a strike the White House later called a mistake and blamed on faulty maps.

The incident brought Russia and China closer over anti-American sentiment, forging a partnership that has since strengthened and is causing alarm in the West.

President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has put scrutiny on that relationship, with the US and European Union ramping up pressure on Xi to limit Beijing’s support of Moscow’s war machine.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to questions about details of Xi’s trip in Europe outside working hours.

By visiting a European nation that has not adopted Western sanctions on Moscow, Xi would make “clear China is going to stand by Russia and deepen their partnership”, said Neil Thomas, a fellow on Chinese politics at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis.

“The main function of that close relationship is to balance against America.”

Adding to the political theatre, Putin – Russia’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – is set to be inaugurated for his fifth term on May 7.

Xi’s Europe trip, which includes stops in France and Hungary, comes after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this month urged the Chinese leader to persuade Putin to end his “insane” war.

The European Union’s top diplomat in Asia said Beijing’s support for the Russian leader is a “big issue” that threatens ties with the bloc. — Bloomberg

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