Bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

Think the Bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was an Accident?

Though it passed almost unnoticed here, the bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was an international scandal. Read what Peter Lee has to say about it: “I’ve got an article up on Asia Times, Chinese embassy bombing: Xi sends message by honoring martyrs in Belgrade. It uses Xi Jinping’s attendance at a wreath-laying ceremony in Belgrade and the appearance of US electronic warfare planes in the Philippines to weave together a story of the technological competition between the US and PRC concerning stealth aircraft in an unexpected and interesting way.

SCS hawks are much enamored of a victim narrative in which everything was going so well until nasty old China decided to mess with the South China Sea in 2010.

Actually, US-PRC contention starts more than ten years before that, when the US bombed the PRC Embassy in Belgrade during the Yugoslav War, supposedly by accident, killing at least three PRC citizens (announced; more fatalities have been rumored) and occasioning the wreath-laying ceremony that Xi attended.

In 1999, the U.S. was still basking in the 1989 democracy movement afterglow and believed it enjoyed the special trust and confidence of the Chinese people. When Chinese blowback from the embassy bombing instead turned out to be a measure of popular anger, the US blamed it on the fact that the CCP had withheld news of President Clinton’s apology from the Chinese people. This does not seem to have been the case, but it did not stop displays of US resentment at the PRC’s churlish inability to accept our explanation and expressions of remorse.

Chinese Embassy Belgrade

Chinese Embassy Belgrade

Via a paper by researcher, Peter Gries, I came on a report on the response of Tom DeLay, the Republican whip in the House of Representatives, to what he considered to be self-interested CCP carping: I was on Meet the Press…right after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo [he meant Belgrade], and the [Chinese] ambassador was on before me. And if you remember, he’s kind of an obnoxious fellow and he’s screaming and yelling about how bad the Americans were, and I had had it up to about here. So he’s coming off the stage and I’m going onto the stage and I intentionally walked up to him and blocked his way…I grabbed [his] hand and squeezed it as hard as I could and pulled him a kind of little jerk like this and I said: “Don’t take the weakness of this president as the weakness of the American people”. And he looked at me kind of funny, so I pulled him real close, nose to nose, and I repeated it very slowly, and said, “Do-not-take-the-weakness-of this president as the weakness of the American people”.

Li Zhaoxing, by the way, went on to become the PRC’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. And the legacy of the embassy bombing, which occurred under “President Weakness”, probably contributes to shaping PRC attitudes toward the widely anticipated incoming president, Hillary Clinton, and her own attitudes toward China.

It’s a matter of self-interest for pivoteers to poo-poo the idea that we started it, and dismiss the possibility that friction in the South China Sea is perhaps a consequence of a US air raid on a Chinese embassy way back when. But the record makes for awkward reading.

It should be noted that references, such as one by CCTV to a “NATO” bombing in the embedded video, are incorrect. It was not a NATO mission, though the air war was supposedly a NATO project. The operation that produced the embassy bombing was one of a small number of activities run by the US outside of NATO channels. A U.S. show all the way from Whiteman Air Force Base in Kansas, in other words.

The recollections of China’s ambassador Pan Zhanlin, imbue a certain incident after the bombing with a heroic and close to mythic character.

The two comrades in charge of the embassy’s important assets were Little Wang and Little Zheng. One slept in the duty office on the fifth floor, one slept in the dormitory on the fourth floor. Little Wang pierced through the dust and smoke and by the light of the flames dsecended from the fifth floor to the fourth floor. At this time, Little Zheng emerged from the bedroom. Little Wang grabbed hold of Little Zheng and ran back upstairs. Little Zheng had already been injured and his face was flecked with blood. People who ran into them urgently asked: “Why are you going back up?” Little Wang replied: “There is something that needs doing. This is our job.” They picked up four cases of national important assets and battled through smoke and pierced through flames to get downstairs. The stairwell was cut off, they stumbled down to the third floor. Ahead of time, the embassy had made various preparations for an emergency, so these four cases of important things had already been prepared. If any untoward event had occurred, they could be picked up and moved immediately. They knew, these things were more important than life.


The Shenyang poster continue: Upon learning the this genuine picture, I believe that the U.S. attack on our embassy came from the fact that China’s accurate reporting of the Yugoslavia war provoked America to anger and retribution. At the very least we can say that China’s strength really was incapable of hindering America’s risky move. Now we know, and it causes us to appreciate even more profoundly that a nation, when it is poor and weak, is without recourse and pitiful (How helpless and evoking bitterness in people’s hearts were the tears of Premier Zhu Rongji as he wept at the airfield when the remains of the martyrs were transported back to China).


Afterwards we learned that after the bombing China engaged in deep reflection and understood reality more clearly…all of these [developments] transmit this single message to the world—China yearns to be strong and great!


The evidence supporting the case that the bombing was an intentional US attack on the PRC is rather robust, including a clutch of investigative reporting carried out at the time by the Sunday Observer &… Read more:  Chinese embassy bombing: Xi sends message by honoring martyrs in Belgrade. And more!

Written by Godfree
Visiting China and studying it since 1967. Interested in its culture, politics, education and economy.