FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping.
© Mohammed Badra / POOL / AFPFILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping.
The US bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on this day in 1999

President Xi Jinping of China arrived in Serbia on Tuesday for a two-day visit, landing on the 25th anniversary of the deadly US airstrike on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

The strike, which came during the 1999 NATO air war in support of ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, killed three Chinese nationals and injured 20 more. Beijing never fully accepted Washington's apology that the strike had been a mistake caused by "old maps."

China "should never forget" the bombs that claimed the lives of Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu, and Zhu Ying, Xi wrote in an opinion piece published on Tuesday by Serbia's oldest newspaper, Politika.

Comment: See Foreign Ministry: China won't forget NATO's 'barbaric' acts in Yugoslavia (May 2023)
The US claimed it had struck the embassy by accident, using an "old map" of the Serbian capital. The real target, Washington said, had been the Yugoslav government agency for military procurement, which was almost 500 meters (1640 feet) away. The strike was carried out by a B-2 stealth bomber, using JDAM bombs that are accurate to within 14 meters (46 feet) of the target. It was the first and only mission during the 78-day campaign that had been planned by the CIA, the agency's director George Tenet later testified before the US Congress. One CIA agent was reportedly fired and six were reprimanded over the incident.

US President Bill Clinton offered a public apology. Washington later paid a compensation of $28 million to the Chinese government and $4.5 million to the families of the victims.

The NATO-backed war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia cited this, as well as the CIA disciplinary measures, among the reasons for not opening an investigation into the bombing, much less pressing charges.

"The Chinese people cherish peace, but we will never allow such tragic history to repeat itself," the president added.

Serbian MiG-29 fighters, purchased from Russia several years ago to replace NATO-inflicted losses, were scheduled to provide an honor guard to Xi's airplane as it entered Serbian airspace.

Ruins Belgrade
© ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFPFile photo: Ruins of the former Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, November 2010.
Since Xi's last visit in 2016, Beijing has emerged as Belgrade's largest foreign investor and second-largest trading partner after Brussels. China has also backed Serbia's territorial integrity with regard to Kosovo, whose provisional government declared independence in 2008 with US and NATO backing. The EU has recently named recognition of Kosovo as a condition for Serbia's prospective membership.

"We support Serbia's efforts to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose any attempt by any forces to interfere in Serbia's internal affairs," Xi wrote in his article for Politika.

China and Serbia "hold similar positions on many major international and regional issues," Xi noted, adding that the two countries should cooperate in bringing about "an equal and orderly multipolar world and a universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalization."

Both Beijing and Belgrade have refused to join the US and its allies in imposing an embargo on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, despite repeated demands from the West to do so. Visiting France on Monday, Xi told President Emmanuel Macron that he rejected Western attempts to pressure China over Ukraine and "incite a new Cold War."

Xi described Serbia as "a land of beauty and legends" and said that its friendship with China, "forged with the blood of our compatriots," will inspire the two nations "to march forward with big strides."

The Chinese delegation, consisting of around 400 people, is expected to sign some 30 agreements with its Serbian hosts over the two-day visit. After Belgrade, Xi is scheduled to visit neighboring Hungary, another important Chinese trading partner in Europe although it is an EU member.