I’m not crazy about Global Times (the house organ of Chinese hypernationalism) but I like the sniggering condescension of Foreign Policy magazine(the house organ of neo-lioberalism) even less.
Actually, Christine Larson’s recent profile of Global Times in Foreign Policy is reasonably even-handed.
FP’s editors, however, couldn’t resist juicing the story—and signaling to its readership that GT and its views are not be taken seriously–by titling the piece “China’s Fox News” and adding a sidebar, “The Top 10 Screeds in China’s Global Times,” with takedowns by Uri Friedman.
Money Quote: ” Living in an international environment that China temporarily cannot change, we need to be alert to foreign interference as well as keep a sober mind, clean house and constantly improve governance … No country is fond of interference from the outside. China is no exception. In addition to hostile forces originating in foreign countries, China also has to face the mixed chorus formed by Tibet separatists, East Turkistan terrorists and the Falun Gong cult, who have gone abroad. Inner calm is specially needed when dealing with the collusions of the above-mentioned forces.” Context: The editorial, which reflects on China’s rise in a globalized world, sounds a lot like the paranoia about foreign interference expressed by dictators during the Arab Spring. The appeal at the end to “inner calm” may sound tranquil, but one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a euphemism for a crackdown.
In case you don’t see the out-of-control dingbattery you’re supposed to detect in these excerpts, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m on Global Times’ side of the fence on about half of the pieces, which concern America’s cynical stirring of the South China Sea pot.
Which nation is more likely to pose a long-term threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?
China, which imports most of its oil through the region?
Or the United States, which routinely uses unilateral and multilateral sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, keeps a carrier strike force on tap in the west Pacific, has something of an obsession with bottling up the Chinese strategic nuclear submarine fleet stationed in Hainan, and adores the idea of building an anti-China bloc around the South China Sea conflict?
If you answered China, well, that puts you squarely in Foreign Policy’s preferred demographic: people for whom the US system of liberal democracy and free market capitalism a priori put it in the right in any disagreement with China.
Nevertheless, the US model, which has recently displayed a pretty strong bias toward military coercion and financial dysfunction, has its own flaws.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has, I think, generated a certain amount of cognitive dissonance among Chinese democracy advocates.
The Chinese government can, of course, be mocked for its anxious banning of the word “Occupy” from search engines and microblogs. Crowds of disgruntled, idealistic people showing up in high-profile downtown venues is the ultimate nightmare for the CCP.
At the same time, the OWS movement is a statement that US democracy in the age of Citizens United, runaway corporatism, and abjectly craven politicians is simply not delivering the goods for many Americans.
Hurrah! Americans can impotently demonstrate against the fact that their system isn’t working!
Global Times has a pretty tough row to hoe, of course. Authoritarianism and state capitalism are not popular among the Chinese or foreign intelligentsia.
But their writers are trying to make some sense out of the world beyond regurgitating government propaganda.
I was struck by a statement in a Global Times editorial on the OWS movement that I found charming in its awkward truthfulness:
Western countries can withstand street demonstrations better, since their governments are elected.
The editorial, presumably written by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (according to Larson he keeps an iron grip on the editorial page) continues:
People think the street demonstrations will not lead to the overthrow of the Western political system. They are merely valves that can help ease pressure built up in democratic societies while the pressure and dissatisfaction on the streets could end up helping the opposition party seize office.
The conflicts may be minor or serious, but it will not bring significant change.
This is a fair argument, but it also reveals one of the core reasons why the western world lacks determination for real change. Political parties have been taking advantage of dissatisfaction in their societies, manipulating them to serve their own short-term political interests, rather than eliminating the causes.
It’s a worthwhile observation that democracy provides a measure of political stability but may also serve as an obstacle to political and economic solutions by empowering forces that want to block a solution.
That’s something that Global Times, which is trying to make the case for the advantages of China’s authoritarian system, is eager to point out; it’s also something that liberal periodicals like Foreign Policy are constitutionally unable to confront.
Like I said, if you read Global Times you might learn something.
I have to admit what really set me off about the article was this passage, which also provided an interesting perspective on where Hu Xijin is coming from:
In 1989, Hu joined the People’s Daily as a reporter; from 1993-1996 he was a correspondent in Yugoslavia covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned to Beijing in 1996, and at age 36 joined the new Global Times newspaper as deputy editor.
… “But Global Times has been increasingly relevant since 1999,” says Anti, “since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia.” — i.e., the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by U.S. and NATO forces, which stirred conspiracy theories in China and happened to take place in Hu’s old reporting stomping grounds.
That “i.e. the accidental bombing” is, to me, redolent of smug ignorance. How dare China accuse us of bombing their embassy!
There is plenty of evidence—including an investigative report by England’s The Observer, presumably amply endowed with North Atlantic neoliberal cred in the eyes of FP—that the bombing was intentional and, indeed, was a watershed in elite Chinese attitudes toward the United States.
Because of Foreign Policy’s transgressions, I must perforce repost one of my articles on the Belgrade bombing, with a few minor edits:
China’s first direct experience with satellite-guided munitions occurred on the night of May 7, 1999, when at least five GPS-guided JDAM bombs slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese nationals and wounding 20.
Now is a good time to recap the Belgrade bombing incident and contribute some new information contained in the memoirs of the Chinese ambassador to Yugoslavia during the bombing, Pan Zhanlin.
The JDAM used in the attack is a very successful and relatively inexpensive concept in ordnance by which dumb bombs are, as it were, sent to college, and equipped with a GPS-corrected guidance system that generates corrective adjustments to movable vanes after the bomb is dropped from a plane, enabling reported accuracies of within 13 meters.
The conventional, though implausible, narrative at the time of the embassy bombing was The Bomb was Smart… But We Goofed!
In testimony before Congress in July 1999, George Tenet explained how they meant to bomb some logistics office of the Yugoslavian army, they used an outdated map, somebody did catch the error but the message didn’t get through, the system broke down, sooooooo sorry.
On October 17, 1999, the Sunday Observer, in cooperation with a Danish paper, Politiken, came out with what would seem to be a blockbuster report: that the United States had deliberately targeted the embassy in order to remove a key rebroadcast station directing the military activities of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in their struggle to resist NATO forces.
I am embarrassed to admit that my Googling skills haven’t turned up a direct link to the article, but the Observer’s sister publication, the Guardian, ran a story summarizing the article’s conclusions.
As to why the Chinese government dared to take the provocative step of hosting a Yugoslavian military radio facility, the article speculates that Beijing cooperated with Belgrade in order to acquire data on U.S. military capabilities:
Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists – the official Chinese version – but intelligence officers.
The Chinese military attache, Ven Bo Koy, who was seriously wounded in the attack and is now in hospital in China, told Dusan Janjic, the respected president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, only hours before the attack, that the embassy was monitoring incoming cruise missiles in order to develop counter-measures.
Interesting that, according to this report, the Chinese were geared up to monitor cruise missiles sailing over the horizon, and the U.S. surprised them all of a sudden by dropping a JDAM in their laps on a thirty second trajectory from straight overhead.
Wonder if the choice of ordnance was meant to achieve an objective—or to send a message?
According to the Observer, the behind the scenes U.S. attitude to the embassy bombing was: Mission Accomplished.
British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced the “cock-up”. The US colonel was relaxed. “Bullshit,” he replied to the complaints. “That was great targeting … we put three JDAMs down into the (military] attache’s office and took out the exact room we wanted …
This story died the death in the U.S. media (I only saw references to it in the English papers at the time) and, to its everlasting credit, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) took the matter up.
In an October 22, 1999 article, FAIR wrote:
So far, the reaction in the mainstream U.S. media has been a deafening silence. To date, none of America’s three major network evening news programs has mentioned the Observer’s findings. Neither has the New York Times or USA Today, even though the story was covered by AP, Reuters and other major wires. The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news brief in its “World Briefing” (10/18/99), under the headline “NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing.”By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most prestigious paper, ran the full Reuters account prominently in its international section (10/18/99). So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Times (all 10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which collaborated with the Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran the story on its website.
FAIR and its supporters rattled a few media cages, and got dismissive replies from the New York Times and USA Today.
The Times’ Andrew Rosenthal characterized the Observer article as “not terribly well sourced”.
In its rebuttal, FAIR stated:
FAIR contacted journalists at both the Observer and Politiken. According to the Observer’s U.S. correspondent, Ed Vulliamy, its foreign editor, Peter Beaumont, and Politiken reporter Jens Holsoe, their sources included the following:
–A European NATO military officer serving in an operational capacity at the four-star level – a source at the highest possible level within NATO–confirmed three things: (1) That NATO targeted the Chinese embassy deliberately; (2) That the embassy was emitting Yugoslav military radio signals; and (3) That the target was not approved through the normal NATO channels but through a second, “American-only” track.
–A European NATO staff officer at the two-star level in the Defense Intelligence office confirmed the same story.–
Two U.S. sources: A very high-ranking former senior American intelligence official connected to the Balkans – “about as high as you can get,” according to one reporter — confirmed that the embassy was deliberately targeted. A mid-ranking current U.S. military official, also connected to the Balkans, confirmed elements of the story and pointedly refused to deny that the embassy had been bombed deliberately.
–A NATO flight controller based in Naples and a NATO intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio broadcasts from Macedonia each confirmed that NATO’s signals intelligence located Yugoslav military radio signals coming from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. When they informed their superiors, they were told that the matter would be handled further up in the chain of command. Two weeks later, the embassy was bombed.
–An official at the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency told the reporters that NATO’s official explanation, which involves a faulty map of Belgrade, is a “damned lie.”
Finally, the Times, still coasting on its Pentagon Papers reputation in those halcyon, pre-Judy Miller days, replied to one correspondent:
“There is nothing in the distinguished history of the Times — where reporters have risked their lives, been threatened with jail and indeed gone to jail to protect the public’s right to know things the government does not want to get out — to suggest that we would withhold such a story.”
A 1999 report by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom discusses how the U.K. media spun the war, notes in passing:
Equally, when the Chinese embassy was hit, resulting in several deaths, the true consequences the action were hidden. Television pictures illustrating the structural damage to the building were shown, the bodies of two passing Serbian school children were not. The media played along.
Certainly, the media was willing to give NATO forces the benefit of the doubt and provide them not only with enthusiastic cheerleading but active image management during the Kosovo intervention.
The fact the New York Times was unwilling to pick up the Observer story cannot be attributed solely to the Gray Lady’s irreproachably high standards in journalism.
When weighing the credibility of the Observer report, it is also worth recalling that, by CIA Director Tenet’s own admission, of the 900 targets struck during the Kosovo war, the CIA was responsible for only one targeting package—the bombing that was ostensibly meant to take out an insignificant Yugoslavian paper-shuffling operation and ended up destroying the Chinese embassy’s intelligence directorate instead.
Another investigative report confirmed that, not only was the target selected by the CIA, the entire mission was flown by the United States outside of standard NATO channels (NATO, of course, was the vehicle for European and American intervention in the Kosovo conflict; it was not a U.S.-directed war).
This is not my day for coming up with direct links to original reporting, but I found a posting on Venik’s Aviation of what looks like an accurate transcription of a May 2000 article from Air Forces Monthly, a European publication, detailing the mission.
It delivers the goods on what actually struck the Chinese embassy (not “guided missiles” or “laser guided munitions” as other outlets reported):
In the early hours of May 7, 1999, a USAF B-2 Spirit bomber, escorted by EA-6B defence suppression aircraft and F-15C fighters, dropped three GPS-guided Joint Defence Air Munition (JDAM) bombs on the Chinese Embassy in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade.
As to how the targeting “error” slipped by NATO:
It should be noted that, in an interview with the author, NATO spokesman Lee McClenny confirmed that the targeting information did not go through JTF NOBLE ANVIL, or any other NATO structure, in contrast to Tennet’s [sic] official public statements. Instead, the co-ordinates were passed directly from the CIA to Whiteman Air Force Base, the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, where it was programmed into the JDAMs. Mr McClenny asserted that the entire process had remained ‘Stateside’, hence the failure of NATO staff to ‘scrub’ the target to check its accuracy, authenticity and location.
When asked, the CIA again asserted that the story given by Tennet [sic] to the House Committee was true, but claimed that the targeting information went from the CIA to the Pentagon to be processed. The Pentagon was only prepared to say that “some of the F-117 and B-2 missions were used as ‘national assets’ and therefore did not pass through NATO command structures”, despite the requirement under the NATO charter to clear all missions carried out under NATO auspices with the NATO general council…
As to whether the United States would take the radical step of bombing a Chinese embassy simply to disrupt Milosevic’s peripatetic radio network, the article speculates that not only was the embassy’s spook contingent acquiring Elint (not Internet-ready lint, but electronic intelligence) on U.S. cruise missile launches, as had been reported in the Guardian article cited above; it was also field testing a passive sensing device that could detect Stealth aircraft.
The article posits that the system may have worked, it may have been provided targeting information to Yugoslavian air defenses, and may have been responsible for the shoot-down of an F-117 Stealth fighter two weeks before the bombing.
The new Passive Coherent Location System (PCLS) …is capable of acquiring stealth platforms and is also un-jamable, due to the lack of any emissions from the monitoring system. As a result, the PCLS is also immune to Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) and conventional Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). ..
In the light of this, it would seem to be relevant to consider that the F-117 lost over Serbia was lost two weeks prior to the strikes on the Chinese Embassy. On the same night that the F-117 was lost, another returned to base with extensive damage. If the PCLS was to be on the verge of deployment, then the Kosovo campaign would have presented the Chinese military establishment with an unprecedented and un-missable opportunity to validate the system in the field. It should also be noted that Belgrade and Beijing have close military ties and it is probable that, were the system in operation, the targeting locks provided by the PCLS would be relayed to Serbian air defences.
The author poses the interesting possibility that the Chinese had compromised US Stealth technology, and that’s why the Stealth bomber that struck the embassy was accompanied by conventional, radar visible escorts:
Furthermore, if the stealth assets were as ‘low-observable’ as is claimed, the US would have seen no necessity in escorting these assets with non stealth defensive aircraft such as EA-6Bs and F-15Cs as they would not only have been redundant, but would have provided conventional air defence radars with a track on the overall package.
In July 1999, a Hong Kong magazine, Kai Fang, described Chinese intelligence operations in Belgrade in circumstantial detail, with particular attention to the military attache Ren Baokai (whose name was rendered in the Observer article as Ven Bo Koy), who headed a 12-person PLA team in Belgrade. Apparently, Ren’s contributions to Chinese knowledge of U.S. military secrets was so great his fate attracted the personal attention of China’s highest leadership:
…on 23 June, Guangming Ribao carried a report entitled “Chinese Military Attaches amidst the Flames of War.” According to the practice in mainland China, this report was apparently a routine “report of positive propaganda.” However, it also gave up, unintentionally, a very important secret: After the CPC embassy was destroyed in a missile attack on 8 May, what concerned the CPC top leadership the most was the fate of Ren Baokai, a Chinese military attache in its embassy in Yugoslavia.
As a matter of fact, when the news of the bombing of the Chinese embassy first came out, except for two persons who were already confirmed dead, a dozen of people were reported missing. However, according to this report, the CPC’s “relevant departments” had already been informed of the missing of Ren Baokai by that time, “the leading comrades of the party Central Committee, the State Council, and the Central Military Commission showed great concern over the matter,” and the PLA Headquarters of General Staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly issued a secret order that “Ren Baokai has to be sought out at whatever cost.” It was not until over 8 o’clock local time that Ren Baokai was found injured from under the ruins. After he was rushed to the hospital, the CPC made an unusual request that Yugoslavia do all it could to save Ren Baokai; meanwhile, the CPC also asked the Yugoslav Military Medical University to provide medical support for Ren Baokai’s treatment. Four days later, Ren Baokai was taken back to China by a special plane, and was received by Jiang Zemin and other leaders.
The Kai Fang article also proposes that the key role of Ren’s team in the Yugoslav shootdown of the F117 drove the United States to the momentous step of attacking China’s embassy in Belgrade.
Therefore, the only conclusion that one can draw to explain why the Chinese embassy was attacked by the United States with missiles is that the CPC’s military espionage operation carried out inside the embassy had already constituted a realistic threat to the NATO.
The author of the Kai Fang piece described the US attack as a complete success:
It has been disclosed that before the bombing incident, the CPC had already obtained a host of electronic information on the NATO’s air strikes, and had stored a considerably rich amount of combat reference data. However, all the information and data it had gathered was destroyed by US-made missiles, and the important equipment used for further monitoring the NATO’s military operational methods was no longer in existence. This apparently made the CPC burning with a frenzy of rage…
Certainly, if the United States believed that intelligence assets within the Chinese embassy had contributed materially to the downing of any U.S. aircraft, whether Stealth or conventional, a savage strike on the embassy, both to disable the operation and put the Chinese on notice, is certainly not out of the question.
But I, for one, wonder if China actually possessed the wherewithal in 1999 to crack the Stealth puzzle, or if they would take the near suicidal risk of passing targeting information to the Yugoslavs if they had it.
We can now bring some more recent, first-hand information to the mix.
China’s Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time, Pan Zhanlin, has written a Chinese-language memoir entitled My Encounter with War .
Perhaps since it is largely a rather turgid and uninformative recounting of the chronology of the Kosovo crisis and offers no tell-all details about what China was really up to in the Balkans, it’s available free on-line.
Nevertheless, his account does offer some interesting and perhaps important details.
Living in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign, Ambassador Pan became something of an expert on precision-bombing tactics, and he reports on the effect of the five bombs in detail:
The first bomb entered the side of the building at an angle near the roof and tore through to the first floor and detonated at a bottom corner at the dormitory, tearing a pit several meters deep. One of the fatalities and many of the injuries occurred here. The second bomb hit the middle of the roof and went through to the first floor auditorium, causing no fatalities but giving Ambassador Zhan food for thought by incinerating his office and melting the frame of his day bed. The third bomb hit the northwest corner and blasted through several floor, killing two people. The fourth bomb came in a window of the half basement, exploded, destroyed the embassy clubhouse and shattered the building’s structural members. The fifth bomb crashed through the roof of the ambassador’s villa. Fortunately for Ambassador Zhan, who was there at the time, it didn’t explode. Since B2s drop their bombs in even numbers to keep the plane balanced, there was speculation that perhaps a sixth bomb had also entered the basement; but it was never found.
Venik’s website has a photograph of a fragment of a JDAM recovered from the Chinese embassy which is on display at the Museum of Yugoslav Aviation near the Belgrade airport. He identifies it as a 2000 pound MK 84 bomb, the biggest bang in the JDAM arsenal.
As to the damage the embassy sustained, news photos and reports show that the facade was blown off one side of the building from roof to ground, and extensive damage and injuries resulted (rescue teams did not find and extract Ren Baokai until more than 8 hours after the attack) but the building did not pancake.
The Chinese were forced to abandon the embassy because of the unexploded and as yet unlocated bomb. Nobody dared redevelop the site and the derelict embassy became an eyesore. Finally the Serbian government raised the funds for the expensive and complex job of removing the bomb.
On July 3, 2004, People’s Daily carried a brief item:
Defense Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Prvoslav Davinic said on July 1 that an unexploded missile has been dug out from the ruins of the Chinese Embassy. At midnight May 7, 1999, the NATO led by the United States launched a missile attack on the Chinese Embassy, with five missiles hitting the embassy, leaving three Chinese reporters dead, more than 20 diplomats wounded and the embassy building devastated. One of the missiles did not exploded [sic].
The article includes a picture of the unexploded bomb in situ, and an exterior shot of the place where the bomb was found.
I leave it to structural engineers and ordnance enthusiasts to assess whether this damage is consistent with an assault of five JDAMs meant to destroy the entire embassy; a surgical strike to take out the military attache’s office; or the aftermath of a dud-studded fiasco.
Concerning the importance of Ren Baokai, Ambassador Pan states that Ren’s fate was indeed the subject of urgent queries from Beijing in the eight hours before he was found.
Taken together with the Guangming Ribao report cited above by Kai Fang magazine, we can safely make the inference that, yes, China’s military attache on the spot monitoring America’s latest high-tech war with China’s most secret and sensitive military technology was probably a pretty important guy.
Was the high-level attention to Ren’s fate was prompted by the institutional concern that the CCP reserves for its most capable and productive operatives, or was Chinese intelligence desperate to get Ren back alive in order to obtain some crucial information that Ren had somehow forgotten to write down and transmit to Beijing while he was sitting in an embassy full of secure communications equipment?
I lean toward the former explanation, but I suppose we could ask Ren himself. The last I was able to find, he was back in Belgrade serving as military attache to China’s embassy to Serbia-Montenegro.
Ambassador Pan is anxious to characterize the American attack as intentional and motivated by pure cussedness: to break the back of the Milosevic regime by demonstrating to its allies that diplomatic support was not only useless but positively dangerous.
He carefully if awkwardly debunks the scenarios that the embassy was bombed because Milosevic was sheltering or visiting there, or that it was rebroadcastingYugoslav military communications.
No reference is made to any electronic intelligence activities by China that might have provoked the strike.
Concerning the shootdown of the F117, Pan reports that the scuttlebutt in diplomatic circles was that the plane was located using the Czech Tamara anti-stealth system. His informants told him it couldn’t detect the Stealth aircraft, but that the passage of the plane through sensor coverage left a distinctive “hole” in the CRT display. The Yugoslavs noticed this anomaly and used it to unleash a barrage of 30 SAM missiles at the place where they guessed that the fighter would be, bringing it down.
Pan might be peddling disinformation but, given the fact that not only China but the United States have been interested in acquiring Tamara systems, I would take issue with the conclusion of the AFM and Kai Fang articles that China was field testing a major breakthrough in anti-Stealth detection in Yugoslavia and using it to shoot down American planes.
It seems more likely that Yugoslavia was using the Tamara equipment rather than deploying some Chinese beta version. The Czech system would have been a vital piece of technology that the Yugoslavs owned and were sharing with the deeply interested Chinese, instead of the other way around.
Also, from my layman’s point of view, the Tamara system (or anything like it for that matter), requiring multiple sensing locations linked to a central processor by microwave, does not look like something that could be installed in somebody’s office in the embassy.
If this is correct, the idea that the United States would destroy the Chinese embassy because its military attache was kibitzing with the Yugoslavian army over an Eastern European anti-Stealth system installed somewhere else in Belgrade—or because we wanted to decapitate China’s military intelligence network in Yugoslavia to make sure that data on successful Stealth countermeasures did not make it back to China–seems to be rather implausible.
There is a third possibility, in addition to the rebroadcast and Elint scenarios: the F-117 wreckage story.
And it has a radically different outcome.
The Chinese Internet is rife with urban legends concerning the Belgrade strike. Nobody regards it as accidental, and many Chinese seem willing to ascribe all sorts of shenanigans to the Chinese embassy that provoked the attack.
The most interesting scenario is one that the poster attributes to “a private encounter with a Chinese naval officer who was slightly tipsy”.
According to this informant, the Yugoslavian government had recovered the wreckage of the shot-down F-117 and sold key pieces of it to China. The navigation system, fuselage fragments with the Stealth coating, and high temperature nozzle components of the engine were spirited into the basement of the Chinese embassy. Unfortunately, there was a locator beacon inside the INU powered by a battery and, before the Chinese could discover and disable it, the U.S. military was alerted to the location of the F-117 fragments.
In this version of the story, at least, there is a happy ending for the Chinese. The U.S. attacked the embassy with a laser-guided bomb meant to penetrate to the basement and destroy the embassy and the F-117 prize, but it didn’t explode!
The wreckage made it to China (in the special plane Beijing dispatched to carry home the survivors and the bodies of the victims of the attack, according to other accounts).
In the reported words of the officer (“who spoke with tears in his eyes”):
“Although some of our people sacrificed their lives, we gained no less than ten years in the development of our Stealth materials. We purchased this progress with our blood and international mortification.”
This is an interesting story.
In certain respects—the laser-guided part and the basement stash—it conflicts with more creditable reports.
The embassy’s sub-basement, which served as an all purpose cafeteria, recreation center, and bomb shelter—an unlikely hidey hole for F-117 parts–was hit once, possibly twice, and it seems unlikely that anything could have been recovered from there.
But conspiracy theorists can draw solace from Ambassador Pan’s description of the four cases of “important state materials” that two brave embassy workers ran up to the fifth floor of the burning embassy to extract. Pan stated:
“They knew these materials were more important than life.”
Standard-issue cypher equipment and secret files?
Special Elint monitoring equipment?
Or the crown jewels of America’s Stealth program?
I lean toward the third explanation, because glomming onto some secret airplane parts and then sneaking them out of a burning building is the kind of low tech triumph that fits in with my sense of China’s capabilities and interests inside Yugoslavia at the time.
The United States may have felt that by purchasing the wreckage, China had crossed the line from diplomatic support for Milosevic and conventional military-attache espionage to a more overt intelligence alliance with Yugoslavia in a deeply sensitive areas of U.S. military technology, and needed to be taught a lesson.
I also wish to explore a pyschological element, which perhaps affects China’s outlook to this day.
You can see hints of it in the F 117 in the basement story. It has a touching, almost child-like wish-fulfillment element: the evil empire destroyed our embassy but we escaped with the plans to the Death Star!
The embassy bombing was quite traumatic to China.
However, when the attack occured, triggering official and popular anger within China, the West was disbelieving, dismissive—and defensive.
It was considered rather churlish of the Chinese to intrude their crude and manufactured nationalistic outrage into our “good war” narrative of the Kosovo conflict by trying to make political capital out of our honest mistake.
And even if we were willing to entertain the possibility that the bombing was intentional, the “precision bombing” meme offered the comforting idea that we had simply given a misbehaving office in the embassy an admonitory plink.
In this context, it is interesting to point out an inaccuracy in both the Observer and Air Forces Monthly accounts.
From the Observer: “The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel.”
From AFM via Venik: Despite the fact that the embassy building was evacuated of all nonessential personnel during the hours of darkness to avoid any potential casualties, three Chinese were killed and more than 20 injured.
As both the casualty reports and Pan’s account makes clear, the embassy was filled with people at night, including members of the staff who were afraid to go home because their residences were too close to NATO bombing targets in Belgrade.
The strikingly similar nature of these inaccuracies indicate that they came not from on the scene reporting but from the correspondents’ military sources.
It could have been a situation in which bad intel ( “Mr. President, we‘ll bomb the place at night, nobody’ll be there but those damn spooks!”) morphed into behind the scenes spin (“Yeah, we did it but there was nobody in there but them spooks!”) and finally mutated into a public excuse for an operation that might otherwise be viewed as excessively reckless (“In a piece of high-tech derring-do, the U.S. staged a daring but successful assault targeting Chinese intelligence assets inside the otherwise empty building”.)
I, for one, find it more likely we went in at night simply because we wanted to make sure that Ren Bokai’s meddling team was in the embassy, in its vulnerable fifth-floor office, and huddled over its equipment monitoring our bombing raids when we unleashed the attack.
In any case, both investigative reports erred on the side of credulity in minimizing the human cost of the attack—and the impact it might have on Chinese perceptions and policy.
Today, with further information on the attack and the benefit of perspective, it is difficult to dismiss the shock the Belgrade bombing inflicted on the Chinese.
Post 9/11, Ambassador Pan’s description of the attack is depressing familiar, and more difficult to disregard.
Pan’s plodding prose reawakens dark memories of our own as he conveys the shock and fear as the embassy explodes into flames, “the loudest sound I ever heard”. Survivors found the stairwells blocked by rubble and fire and desperately improvised escapes down the exterior of the building using knotted drapes. Pan saw his friends and colleagues stagger from the ruins of the embassy dazed and bloody, crying out for help.
Amid the chaos everybody ducked in fear of a follow-up attack as NATO bombers thundered overhead (May 7 was one of the busiest nights for aerial bombing). Then came the frantic ad hoc attempts to rally the survivors, account for the living, and search for the missing.
First responders were at first unable to enter the compound because the electric gate was disabled when the bombing cut the power; ambulances race up to the shattered structure with sirens howling to rush away the injured willy-nilly; embassy staffers mounted a frantic search through the local hospitals for the injured.
Finally, there was the extraction of the dead, consoling of the wounded;the grieving; and the defiant patriotic oration.
Again viewed through a post-9/11 lens, Pan’s account also paints a picture of a privileged elite that has been stripped of the illusion that it is immune to attack, and realizing with anger, shame, and disgust that at that moment it is helpless, vulnerable, and unable to retaliate.