Protests in Beijing cool down

police leave U.S. Embassy

For 1st time since attack, Chinese media report apologies by NATO

War In Yugoslavia

May 12, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- After several days of major protests, the capital's diplomatic district fell silent last night as the number of demonstrators marching on the U.S. Embassy declined sharply.

At 10 p.m., the streets in the tree-lined neighborhood two miles east of Tiananmen Square were practically empty except for police, some Chinese residents and the occasional Western journalist.

With the angry, rock-throwing crowds gone, authorities withdrew most of the hundreds of police who had protected the U.S. Embassy since Saturday, when the NATO bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade ignited the largest demonstrations here in a decade.

The cremated remains of the three Chinese who died in the airstrike were scheduled to arrive in Beijing this morning. While the possibility remained that a procession carrying the ashes to the U.S. Embassy today could draw large crowds, the protests that rocked the Chinese capital in recent days seemed to approach a rapid end.

China's freeze on high-level relations with the United States continued. The Pentagon said Beijing has canceled next week's visit by the head of the U.S. Marine Corps; and in Washington, the defense attache at the Chinese Embassy canceled a tour of U.S. military bases.

The freeze on military-to-military contacts is to last at least through this month, Pentagon officials said.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen is tentatively scheduled to visit China next month, but that trip appears in jeopardy.

Until yesterday, the state-run media had made little mention of NATO's apologies for the attack, further enraging Chinese who could not fathom why the United States, Britain and other countries refused to say they were sorry. In an apparent attempt to quell much of the anger it had helped generate, Chinese media ran a video clip yesterday on national television of President Clinton's apology.

Chinese officials refused to accept the words of regret and complained that they appeared half-hearted.

NATO officials "were so indifferent," Li Zhaoxing, China's ambassador to Washington, told CNN. "They simply said: `Well, we're sorry.' Then they shrugged their shoulders and walked away."

U.S. officials have said the strike on the Chinese Embassy was a mistake and have blamed it on faulty information provided by the CIA.

Skepticism

Today for the first time, the Chinese reported the CIA's explanation for the bombing in a translation of a skeptical French newspaper story that was published in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece. The headline read, "CIA: Mistake?"

The publication of NATO's explanation suggested the Chinese could be moving away from their earlier insistence that the bombing was a deliberate attack. Until now, most Chinese have believed that NATO was targeting their embassy.

After being trapped in his embassy for three days, British Ambassador Anthony Charles Galsworthy was able to leave yesterday. U.S. Ambassador James R. Sasser remained inside the U.S. Embassy's main office building until security officers could determine that it was safe for him to go out.

The embassy was to remain closed today. Most of the windows in the main building are broken, and the front of the compound is carpeted with hundreds of water bottles and chunks of concrete that students had hurled over the fence.

While they condoned and facilitated the protests, officials apparently have decided three days of rock throwing and public invective was enough.

Police blocked off sidewalks along the demonstration route with huge plastic sheeting, making it more difficult for protesters to arm themselves with chunks of concrete from sidewalk tiles that were part of a renovation project.

Police also told people not to throw rocks and refused to permit some protesters to march.

Those who made it to the embassy yesterday afternoon seemed far less passionate than groups in earlier days and numbered no more than several hundred at any time.

June 4th in mind?

Some here speculated that the propaganda campaign against the United States has been designed to unite the country with the spirit of nationalism and defuse potential unrest before June 4th, one of the nation's most sensitive political anniversaries.

On that date 10 years ago, soldiers killed hundreds of pro- democracy demonstrators in a crackdown around Tiananmen Square.

With mounting unemployment and frustration over government corruption, the leaders were able to redirect public anger toward a common, foreign enemy.

"This is a show directed by the government," said one liberal intellectual, referring to the media coverage and official support for the protests. "The government is successfully turning people's grudges against society and the government into anger against the United States."

While foreign policy analysts said they thought Sino-U.S. relations would suffer in the short term because of the bombing, most believed mutual economic and political interests would win out in the long run.

"I think wiser heads will prevail on both sides, and both sides will move forward and continue to build a partnership," Sasser said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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