China rejects U.S. explanation of embassy bombing
Pickering fails to convince Beijing that Belgrade attack was a mistake
June 17, 1999
BEIJING (CNN) -- U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering left Beijing Thursday after the Chinese government rejected his explanation that NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia was unintentional.
The Clinton administration has blamed last month's blunder, which killed 3 Chinese journalists and injured 20 other people, on the use of outdated maps.
China has called the May 7 attack a deliberate provocation.
The Beijing government said Thursday it was impossible that the United States did not know the location of the embassy in Belgrade. It called Pickering's explanation "unconvincing," and repeated China's demand that those responsible for the attack receive severe punishment.
"The Chinese government and people cannot accept the conclusion that the bombing was a mistake," state media said Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told Pickering. "The U.S. side must make a satisfactory explanation."
The Chinese rejection dashed hopes that Pickering's visit would reverse the damage to U.S.-China relations caused by the May bombing.
China offered no sign Thursday it was ready to resume military relations and other contacts with Washington -- including talks on China's entry into the World Trade Organization -- that Beijing suspended in anger over the attack.
Instead, Beijing added a new demand: that the United States pay prompt and adequate compensation for the deaths, injuries and property damage.
A B-2 bomber hit the embassy with five 2,000-pound satellite- guided bombs.
Pickering offered compensation, and talks will work out the details, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhang Qiyue said.
China, meantime, also agreed to discuss compensation for damage caused to the U.S. Embassy and consulates during sometimes violent anti-U.S. and anti-NATO protests that erupted in at least 20 Chinese cities after the bombing, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
Zhang said China valued relations with the United States, but responsibility for restoring normal ties was up to Washington.
The United States must "face squarely" the serious consequences of what she called the "surprise attack," severely punish those responsible and give a fuller explanation, Zhang said.
Pickering spent much of Wednesday briefing Deputy Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on how U.S. targeters mistook the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade for a Yugoslav military procurement center. The U.S. envoy then met Foreign Minister Tang.
He also delivered a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton to Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Pickering and U.S. officials traveling with him did not provide details of the meeting. But Susan Shirk, deputy assistant secretary of state, said: "We made a bunch of serious errors and mistakes which resulted in the accident."
In an account of the talks published on Thursday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said Pickering admitted there were three basic errors which led to the embassy becoming a target in NATO's air war against Yugoslavia.
Two Yugoslav maps and one American map misplaced the Chinese embassy, it quoted Pickering as saying.
U.S. military databases had not been updated with the mission's location, and the target review system failed to turn up the error, Pickering reportedly said.
Pickering stopped short of promising punishment, Xinhua said, but did not rule it out.
Xinhua's story was broadly in line with an account offered to selected U.S. reporters by a State Department official responsible for China.
Shirk said the atmosphere was friendly, and both sides want steady relations. She acknowledged, though, that China may never accept "what they would say is our version of the facts."
"They said that it was hard to believe that so many things could go wrong at the same time," she said.
But the Chinese appeared satisfied with a U.S. pledge that "the issue of accountability would be addressed," Shirk said.
In a statement before heading back to Washington, Pickering said the United States looks forward to "further productive discussions with China in the mutual interests of the two countries."
The White House said it hoped Beijing would eventually understand the bombing was an accident.
"It's our hope that once China has had a chance to review and absorb the information that they'll understand that this was a tragic accident," spokesman Joe Lockhart, in Paris with Clinton, said.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.
U.S. tries to restore ties with China
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