Bombing puts bump on road to better U.S.-China relations
May 11, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the government-approved anti-American protests in China that continued for a fourth day on Tuesday are testing the efforts of President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin to improve strained ties between their two countries.
Before the death of three Chinese citizens and the wounding of others in Saturday's accidental attack, NATO's war on Yugoslavia had been just an irritant in U.S.-China relations.
Now, however, Beijing has made it clear that, despite apologies from NATO, Clinton and other U.S. officials, relations with Washington will not return to normal until the bombing stops.
Analysts and U.S. officials say all indications are that hard-liners in the military and elsewhere in the Chinese government now appear to be calling the shots.
"These events provide ample justification to those in China who want to see a slowing, or even bringing to and end a better relationship with the United States," says Bates Gill of the Brookings Institution.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger agrees. "I think there are probably domestic forces in China opposed to a policy of closer ties with the United States," he told CNN on Tuesday.
Moderates like Jiang and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, who have both supported closer U.S.-China ties, now seem to have been sidelined.
Case in point: It was not until Tuesday -- long after the first of repeated U.S. and NATO apologies -- that the Chinese public was told by government-controlled media of those apologies.
Jiang has yet to accept a telephone call from Clinton, and other Chinese officials are continuing to cast doubt on the American claim that last week's bombing was an accident.
"Some people are saying this is a mistake. ... How could they make such an error?" China's ambassador to the United States, Li Zhao Xing, said Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" program.
He demanded a "thoroughgoing investigation" into the incident.
There was little doubt, though, that the bombing in Belgrade left Sino-American relations at a low ebb.
Among the early casualties were high-level military ties as well as talks on arms control, international security and human rights. China suspended contacts in all these areas Monday.
It also postponed two planned concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Beijing this week, saying the embassy bombing had spoiled the atmosphere.
Even before the accidental attack, friction between Washington and Beijing existed on several other fronts:
With strains in U.S.-China relations building in recent months, Beijing is using domestic rage from the mistaken bombing to show displeasure on a variety of disputes and possibly win concessions from Washington, analysts and former diplomats said.
"It's part of the game of putting us on the defensive," said James Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China "Are we going to be able to push them very hard on this right now? I don't think so. It's going to make it more difficult for us," Lilly told CNN.
Referring to U.S. assistance in China's bid for WTO membership, Kissinger says Beijing's leaders now have "an occasion to blow off their frustrations on an issue on which they didn't look as if they are begging (the United States) for help."
"There's nothing more we can do about (the accidental bombing)," Kissinger said, so Washington should "stop apologizing" and continue pressuring Yugoslavia to give in to NATO demands.
"We should pursue our own policy in Yugoslavia. I don't think we can make any significant concessions with respect to the NATO program," he said. As for international criticism, the United States will "just have to tough it out," Kissinger added.
Janet Heininger, an international policy academic who specializes in China, agreed that Beijing will try to make the most of Washington's embarrassment.
"I would assume the Chinese government would try to extract concessions, and WTO is the obvious place to do it. But I hope the administration doesn't try to overcompensate, say by waiving the requirements for WTO membership," she said.
Another area where the Chinese could make gains is in the U.N. Security Council.
With its veto power, China could block a resolution the Clinton administration hopes to work out to give U.N. endorsement to demands being pressed on Yugoslavia in the Kosovo conflict.
China is sensitive to the Kosovo precedent because of American criticism of its conduct toward Taiwan and Tibet, both of which it says are integral parts of the country.
"They don't want to see a precedent in which foreign forces intervene," said Duncan Wrigley, a China expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Former Undersecretary of State Lynn E. Davis, a senior fellow at the Rand Corporation, said that when the overall relationship is in trouble it is difficult to deal with human rights, economic issues and the spread of nuclear technology on their merits.
"It is unlikely we can move ahead on these things," she said.
Nicholas Lardy, of the Brookings Institution, took the long view. "We are going to be jockeying with them throughout this whole period. There will be ups and downs. We and they shouldn't make the other a strategic adversary," he said.
Kissinger: 'Chinese Behavior is Excessive and Really Unacceptable'
U.S. Embassy in China
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