The night that the United States bombed a Chinese embassy

Twenty years ago today, on 7 May 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (Operation Allied Force), five US Joint Direct Attack Munition guided bombs hit the People’s Republic of China embassy in the Belgrade district of New Belgrade, killing three Chinese reporters and outraging the Chinese public.

According to the U.S. government, the intention had been to bomb the nearby Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement. President Bill Clinton later apologised for the bombing, stating it was accidental. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet testified before a congressional committee that the bombing was the only one in the campaign organized and directed by his agency, and that the CIA had identified the wrong coordinates for a Yugoslav military target on the same street.] The Chinese government issued a statement on the day of the bombing stating that it was a “barbarian act”.

When I was on holiday in China the following year, every person with whom I discussed this incident was absolutely clear that the bombing was intentional. However, I have always found the American explanation convincing: the political fall-out from bombing such an incidental target would have ruled out a deliberate act and, in my experience, cock-ups are more common than conspiracies.

But, if you have a bit of time, there is an informative and thoughtful analysis on the incident on this BBC web page.


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