China delivered an anti-aircraft missile system to Russian ally Serbia over the weekend. The major operation raises Western fears of an arms build-up in the Balkans region and the Chinese military’s heavy-lift capability.

Media and military experts told AP News on Sunday, April 10, that six Chinese Air Force Y-20 cargo planes reportedly landed at a commercial airport in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, early Saturday, April 9. The Chinese planes reportedly delivered HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.

The military outlet The Warzone explained, “the Y-20s’ appearance raised eyebrows because they flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-aircraft flights. The Y-20’s presence in Europe in any numbers is also still a fairly new development.”

Chinese jets flew over the territory of at least two NATO member states, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Aleksandar Radic, a Serbian military analyst, said, “the Chinese carried out their demonstration of force.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he would reveal ‘the newest pride’ of the Serbian military next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Serbia, a Russian ally and non-NATO member, received anti-aircraft weapons during a sensitive time when the war between Russia and Ukraine is still ongoing.

Serbia’s President Vučić had previously complained that NATO members were not giving a green light for the system’s delivery flights over their territories amid tensions over the Russia-Ukraine war.

China’s state-run Global Times confirmed the mission on Sunday. Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the outlet that the trip projected the China military’s “long-range strategic transport capabilities.”

The Global Times further quoted Chinese military observers as saying that six cargo planes would “mark an unprecedented overseas operation.”

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