Ten years on from NATO bombing a Chinese embassy … a Chinese voice on what’s changed.

With enough on our minds already about the day after tomorrow (and I don’t mean the film), here’s a little something on the day before yesterday. May 8th was the ten year anniversary of NATO missiles destroying the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, sparking big protests over here. For more, go no further than the China Beat’s reading list

So I put three 10-years-on questions to Jack (whose previous essay on this blog has attracted some heated comments). If there were one sentence in the below I had to highlight, it would definitely be this one in his answer to question two:

On the economy, [the West] have been chanting free trade and free market all the time without recognizing China’s full market economy status, but what they really like are protectionist policies and nationalization of banks.

So now it’s the West who are hidden communists?! How things change. Obama, you have your first Chinese criticism for being too left-wing…


1. Do Chinese still remember and are offended by this bombing? (Also, do they believe now it was accident or intentional?)

Yes, we will always remember this bombing. In fact, it has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest humiliation to the Chinese people since reform and opening-up.

It was by no means an accident. In my opinion, it was masterminded by the military perhaps without the knowledge of the Clinton administration. Facts speak louder than words. In 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade, only seven bombs out of more than 5,000 “missed” their targets, and five of the seven were thrown at the Chinese embassy. The five bombs hit the embassy from different directions, destroying the compound. The pilot also paid special attention to the residence of the ambassador, with one bomb precisely hitting his residence. Fortunately, that bomb did not explode. The U.S. was claiming that they had the best pilot, the best weapon, and the best intelligence, so how could they make such a “mistake”? The explanation given by the American side was not convincing at all. They said they used an old map on which the Chinese embassy was not marked. But the truth of the matter is at that time the embassy was marked even on a tourist map of Belgrade. Anyone with a common sense would not believe in their explanation.

After the incident, President Clinton apologized for five times and wrote two letters of apology to President Jiang Zemin. So many apologies made some Chinese people think that maybe it was carried out by the military without the knowledge of top U.S. decision makers. The truth has not been revealed, and perhaps will never be. But based on facts, Chinese people believe it was absolutely intentional, and the only thing unknown is who was behind the attack.

2. What do you believe has changed now in the attitude of young Chinese (like those who protested 10 years ago against the USA) towards America?

Over the past decade, I think the young Chinese have gradually dropped their illusion of the U.S. and begun to view it more objectively.

After reform and opening-up, to be more specific in the 1980s and 1990s, the Chinese people began to know more about the outside world. The prosperity of the west attracted the young people so much that all of a sudden everybody wanted to go abroad. At that time, we had a popular saying, “Moon of the west is even more beautiful than that of China.” Experiencing the sharp contrast between China and the west, many Chinese people became critical of China, perhaps in a cynical way.

However, when the Chinese embassy was bombed, many people began to think: is this the kind of democracy and human rights that we want to pursue? A number of other incidents followed suit, for example, the Iraqi war, Guantanamo Bay, biased report on 3/14 Tibetan incident, which compounded young people’s negative attitude towards the U.S. in specific and the west in general. Many young people tend to believe the west is very hypocritical and has its own weak links. On human rights and democracy, the West does not care about democracy and human rights in other countries at all, and what they care about most are their own interests, for example, oil, geopolitics. And they will bully the weak if the latter do not obey their orders. On the economy, they have been chanting free trade and free market all the time without recognizing China’s full market economy status, but what they really like are protectionist policies and nationalization of banks.

Disillusionment aside, the Chinese have been fully aware of the strength of the west, especially in terms of science, technology and education. Today, still many young Chinese are going abroad for study. And more and more of them are coming back. China is short of qualified professionals. For example, recently the government has adopted a policy to build Shanghai into an international financial center by 2020, but one of the biggest bottlenecks is the lack of talents. Therefore, we still need to learn from the west for our own development.

Generally speaking, the young people in China have gradually turned to view the west, particularly the U.S., in a more objective way. We have become more aware of the hypocrisies and weakness of the west while better understanding their strength. I think this is one of the biggest changes over the past decade.

3. What might happen now if something similar happened again?

First of all, I think the probability of similar incident is very low at present given the higher recognition of China by the west and broader engagement with the west by China. This is a period of transition, from one that China was criticized on many fronts to one that China is expected to take more responsibility as a “responsible stakeholder”. It is vital for China to manage the transitional process by reducing misunderstandings, concerns, or even fears in the west, and it is equally significant for the west to adjust their attitude towards China and “see China in light of its development”.

If something similar happened again, the government and the public would respond in a resolute, serious and rational way. On the one hand, the government would use the diplomatic channel instead of military force. It might impose pressure on the U.S. government for apology and bringing those responsible into justice. It might also stop cooperation with the U.S. in some areas, such as trade, investment, foreign exchange reserve, and so on. Meanwhile, the Chinese government needs to strike a balance between giving the public some space to vent their anger while maintaining social stability and preventing the spread of nationalism. On the other hand, the public would become extremely angry and protest against the U.S., hopefully in a more rational way without throwing rocks at the embassy.


  1. 1) Stealth Bomber goes down (how, who)


    2) Embassy bombed.

    You’ll find your answer between #1 and #2
    “just because I’m paranoid…”

  2. All this talk of the USA “intentionally” bombing the Chinese embassy… for 10 years! Yet no one has ever mentioned a MOTIVE. If it was intentional, then certainly during a time of war there must have been a strategic, or tactical military motive. What was that motive?

    World powers don’t bomb each other’s embassies.

  3. Think he was been sarcastic, hence the air quotes. He’s saying they didn’t miss but was intentionally targeted.

    I’m not too sure about the figures, but usually when they bomb “targets” in Afganistan they’re aiming people, ala top terrorists leaders. Even if they bomb the right building, if the leader wasn’t actually at the location, they would classify that as missing the target.

  4. Also as mentioned by an CNA (a Washington Think tank) seminar on US-China relations. The speak mentions that embassy bomb was the only target selected by CIA. The rest of the targets for the entire Kosovo conflict was selected from Pentegon. Very suspecius…

    Here is the video of the seminar. (warning, it’s about 2 hours long, and feature a bunch of old guys)

  5. Website crashes every time It try to load up the previous page of comments. And yeah, I’m not the only one who doubts the statistics, but it’s worth mentioning that NATO did not claim that they’d missed, but that their targeting had been wrong – they hit what they were aiming for.

  6. “Facts speak louder than words. In 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade, only seven bombs out of more than 5,000 “missed” their targets, and five of the seven were thrown at the Chinese embassy.”

    5 out of 5,000? I read that almost 25% of the bombs in the Afgan conflict four years later missed their target. Where is he getting his information?

    In his last post Zhangning said, “A big problem I am finding in western countries is that many western friends are criticizing China based on totally wrong information, and this will make our misunderstanding even worse.”

    I think he just lived up to his own criticism. Is he practicing for a position with the foreign ministry?

  7. The possible answer to why the Chinese would have aided the Serbians here is technology, the serbians had managed to down a stealth bomber (no mean feat) and it’s pretty obvious other countries would be keen to get their hands on the wreckage. Remove the embassy’s ability to broadcast and any reason you would have for handing the bomber over flys out of the window.

    So goes the conspiracy.

  8. Very insightful comments and post by Zhangning and more or less , as a long time China resident I agree with 95% of it .

    Some exceptions:

    “If something similar happened again, the government and the public would respond in a resolute, serious and rational way.”

    resolute and serious, yes, rational, I’m not so sure. I lived in Beijing during the NATO bombing and the protests there were well managed, serious, and even to a point of being courteous….I remember going to the US embassy – being a white person not feeling all the comfortable – but seeing all the bussed in student protestors filing by the US Embassy, hurling their paint bombs – then moving along to get their free boxed lunch and get onto the bus back to campus.

    a lot has changed since then. Chinese are much more proud, nationalistic – as they very rightly should be – than back then. personally, if something similar happened today, and unless the government quickly quelled it , i could see serious anti-Western backlash swelling out of control….China has a long history of suppressing its own internal frustrations and using “its the foreigners fault” as a great steam vent.

    personally I would not feel as safe as i did back then the summer of ’99

  9. I think it shows very well how the Chinese feel — a mix of rank nonsense: (5,000 bombs dropped, only 7 missed? ROFL) and the bizarre claim that Chin has “full market status” that gives a real feel for the kind of non-facts that must circulate in the rumor mills of BBS and internet — along with some more rational points of view. Nice glimpse….

  10. @Jumpy – All very believable, but also contradicting what other equally dubiously sourced stories have said. What’s the truth? Other than that there obviously was a bombing, and that innocent people were killed, and that the CIA has made many cock-ups – who is to say?

  11. Very informative article on the bombing, the causes and the ramifications.


  12. “Yes, we will always remember this bombing. In fact, it has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest humiliation to the Chinese people since reform and opening-up.”

    Wow!! And how did NATO, and more specifically the US, feel about the Chinese Embassy willfully interfering against NATO operations in the war zone? Of course it was no accident, but to paint it as an unprovoked act of aggression against China and its people is to have no understanding (or complete denial) of the circumstances.

    In short, the bombing was fully justified and brought upon the Chinese by their own actions. Not something you’re likely to read in China Daily, of course.

  13. @Zhang Ning – Why is it that increasingly on the interwebs I see people posting as ‘a Chinese’, ‘a Chinese voice’, ‘a patriot’, ‘AiGuoZhe’, or similar. Surely it is much more important that the opinion is your own than what your nationality is?

    Were Mr. Ash to write a post on the attacks on the World Trade Centre this September, would you think it reasonable for him to call his viewpoint ‘an American voice’? Or would you think his opinion his own and not necessarily representative of his country?

    I would strongly question your statistics on the number of missed bombs. Especially as the Belgrade authorities report that every hospital in the city was hit, and there were several incidents of incorrect targeting – see the bombing of Novi Sad on the 30th of May 1999, the Grdelica train bombing, the Belgrade strike of 1st of May, the Lužane bus bombing, the cluster bombing of the Niš medical centre, and the accidental strikes on Albanian refugees near ?akovica and Koriša. In fact, didn’t some bombs land in Hungary?

    Finally, does it really do any good to repeat conspiracy theories without positive evidence? What evidence do any of the above commenters have that the embassy was being used to relay Serb transmissions? What evidence does Zhang Ning have that it was intentional? Why does he not even bother to come up with a reason? The only conspiracy theory to have had any confirmation of any kind (and then only from a ‘unidentified NATO official’) was that at the time NATO believed Slobodan Miloševi? to be at the embassy, but there is little else to support this.

    The rest of this article is the usual depressingly nationalistic boilerplate which any long-time reader of the Sino-blogosphere has become far too familiar.

  14. Yes, the bombing was intentional.

    The “smart bomb” was directed exactly at the communications room in the Chinese Embassy.

    The two “journalist” who were killed were communications technicians.

    China made a lot of noise about this event. However, China didn’t admit how much support it gave the Serbian Government.

    Taking sides in a war carries a price. China should not play with fire if it doesn’t want to get burnt.

  15. It is “public secret” that Yugoslav government used telecommunication equipment of Chinese embassy to maintain long wave communication, as number of long and short wave stations were destroyed earlier across Serbia.

    Other explanation is that 100 meters from embassy building of Yugoimport is situated. It is state owned arm dealer. Building is in same street as embassy. Embassy and Yugoimport was only two buildings on that side of in some 300 m stretch. Both buildings have distinctive designs, and there’s a big “Yugoimport” sign on their building. If bombs on Chinese Embassy was “mistake”. then all staff of NATO intelligence should be fired.

  16. What’s changed is that the Chinese government got its fingers burned. NATO had bombed all Serbian transmitters, cutting off the troops in the field from their command in Belgrade. The Chinese embassy helpfully offered their transmitter, and dared NATO to interfere (embassies are sovereign territory of a nation). This is an act of war, by the way.

    What’s never, ever mentioned is *motive*. Either it was an accident (no) or intentional (obviously). If it was intentional, what was the motive? “To humiliate China” is a non-starter. However, removing a transmitter that was aiding the enemy is a classic military requirement.

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