By IVANA BZGANOVIC | Associated Press
SMEDEREVO, Serbia (AP) — Serbian and Chinese security forces held joint anti-terror drills in the Balkan country on Thursday in a sign of Beijing’s growing influence in the volatile region.
The drill, held at a China-owned steel mill near Belgrade, included special police troops from both countries and is part of a security agreement signed between the two countries earlier this year.
It was believed to be the first such drill to feature Chinese SWAT forces in a European country.
“We are learning from those who are bigger, stronger, who have different experiences,” Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said. “We want to make progress and I expect that soon we will exchange such experiences in China.”
The security agreement with China also includes joint police foot patrols in three Serbian towns, formally to help the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting the country, and the installation of hundreds of Huawei-made facial recognition cameras throughout the Serbian capital.
The United States asserts that the Chinese telecommunication and technology giant poses a national security risk because of its ties to the Beijing government, a claim that Huawei has repeatedly denied.
Although it is formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has increasingly been turning toward Russia and China. The two big powers support Serbia’s claim over its former province of Kosovo which declared independence in 2008.
China has invested billions of dollars into Serbia as part of its global Belt and Road project. Russia has been beefing up Serbia’s military with warplanes, tanks and other arms, raising concerns in the West and in the region, which was at war in the 1990s.