China rejects U.S. account of attack

U.S. envoy's explanation of mistaken embassy strike is termed `not convincing'

June 18, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- China has publicly rejected the latest U.S. attempt to portray last month's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, as a mistake.

Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering spent more than five hours on Wednesday with high-ranking Chinese officials in an attempt to heal the rift in relations caused by the bombing but his detailed explanation was described as "not convincing."

"The explanations the U.S. side has supplied so far for the cause of the incident are not convincing, and the conclusion that it was a so-called mistaken bombing is by no means acceptable to the Chinese government and people," the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

Pickering spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. U.S. officials described the discussions as friendly, but said that China might never fully accept their explanation.

"We don't have any illusions that they are going to turn on a dime," the Associated Press quoted Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Susan Shirk as saying. "It's going to take them a while. In the end, [they may] never buy what they would say is our version of the facts."

The bombing of the embassy May 7 killed three Chinese journalists and plunged Sino-U.S. relations to their lowest point in years. China has postponed high-level military contacts with the United States and suspended discussions on issues such as trade, human rights, arms control, and nuclear proliferation.

Leaders in Beijing have insisted that the bombing was a deliberate attack designed to test the mettle of a rising power -- an explanation many Chinese seem willing to believe.

The missile strike -- and the state-run news media's failure to report NATO apologies and explanations immediately afterward -- sparked the worst anti-Western protests here since the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

With government approval, tens of thousands of Chinese attacked U.S. diplomatic sites around the country. The walls of the main U.S. Embassy building in Beijing remain splattered with paint, and most of the windows are still broken.

Pickering did arrive to a less hostile environment.

After a furious propaganda campaign in the state media, anti-American rhetoric has cooled off in recent weeks. Despite their anger, Chinese leaders have said they want to continue to pursue strong business ties with the United States and seek entry into the World Trade Organization.

Pickering, who tried to keep his visit as quiet as possible, did not speak with reporters. Xinhua, however, provided a lengthy version of his explanation:

The U.S diplomat attributed the attack to a series of mistakes. They included the use of faulty maps, which did not show that the Chinese Embassy had moved to a new location in Belgrade. The United States did not enter the embassy's new address into military databases. And, finally, the targeting review process failed to catch the error.

"Why did errors occur at every stage and none of them were corrected?" Xinhua asked.

The United States reportedly promised to provide compensation for the damage and casualties, and is expected to make public a report on the bombing soon. The Chinese have demanded that the United States severely punish those responsible.

Pickering, according to Xinhua, said the United States is interviewing those involved in the bombing and will determine later whether to take disciplinary action.

Reports have suggested that the U.S. intelligence community would resist naming those involved directly in the bombing mistake. Yesterday, a Chinese foreign policy analyst said that would be a mistake.

"Their privacy should not get in the way of a broader relationship between the two countries," said Jia Qingguo, a professor at Beijing University's School of International Studies. "Even when you have a traffic accident, the guy is identified."

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