Sifting through the rubble

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 May, 1999, 12:00am

Amid the fury expressed in the mainland media after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, two key questions have repeatedly been addressed: Was the bombing deliberate? And if so, why did the Americans do it? The coverage has been a boon for conspiracy theorists and has supplied a useful diversion from this week's June 4 anniversary while the mainland government can use it to try to gain concessions from the United States in areas such as trade.

But diplomats fear that the strong propaganda filling the mainland press may make it difficult to normalise relations.

The answer to the first question has been an emphatic 'Yes'. Military experts have brought home the message again and again: 'The bombing of the Chinese was absolutely not a mishit, instead it was a prepared, planned, targeted attack, an act of war,' said Professor Zhang Zhaozhong of the National Defence University.

'I can't accept the mishit theory. From a military perspective, it is impossible to use outdated maps. The United States has over 50 satellites over Yugoslavia, and among them 20 are used to track targets,' said Colonel Du Zhengai of the China Military Science Research Institute.

Yugoslav city planners have also been quoted to show that it was impossible for American maps to be wrong about the location or identity of the embassy.

Even those, like Dr Lin Limin of the Institute of Modern International Relations, who at first said they thought the bombing was a mistake now say they have changed their minds because the US has failed to provide any evidence, such as a black-box recording of the pilots' conversations before the attack.

'Now I started to wonder whether I made my initial judgment out of an innate goodness. Maybe, it is because at the time I still hesitated to accept that Clinton could act like Hitler and the USA like Nazi Germany,' he said.

But explaining why President Bill Clinton deliberately ordered his planes to attack the Chinese Embassy without warning has been more complicated, and draws on world domination conspiracy theories which in the cold light of day might puzzle some readers.

This 'act of war', as the country's most prominent defence analyst put it, is being presented as part of an elaborate plot to keep China from achieving its imminent greatness - even though it follows two years in which many Chinese thought that Sino-American relations have never been warmer.

The People's Daily attributed the attack to 'aggressive foreign forces, jealous of China's swift development and growing international strength'. This means that the US cannot tolerate the growth of a socialist mainland and the bombing was part of efforts to 'change our political line and to disrupt and sabotage our cause in a bid to contain our development'.

The bombing should be understood as part of a 'global strategy for world hegemony' which the People's Daily claimed could be traced back as far as the Boxer Rebellion.

Colonel Du argues that as with Russia, the US has a policy of engagement which has really disguised a policy of containment.

Gao Heng, a researcher at the World Economy and Politics Research Institute, wrote an article in the China Business Daily arguing it was all part of a plot to 'sabotage China' because the truth was the US hates China.

'The US-Japan Security and Defence Treaty is against China, especially the Missile Defense System. The global strategy of the United States is to fight in both frontlines in the West and East. Who are the targets? China and Russia,' Gao wrote, urging his readers to be on 'high alert'.

The Party mouthpiece said that such plots could not destroy 'the brilliant image of China as an invincible nation' armed with Deng Xiaoping Thought.

Several professors have advanced the theory that the embassy bombing was a pre-attack reconnaissance strike to test the mettle of the enemy. Professor Fang Ning of Capital Normal University thought it was designed to test out 'how the Chinese people will act, how the Government will act and what are the relations between government and people'.

Professor Zhang has also been pushing this line: 'They wanted to find out China's reaction to an international crisis and conflict, especially swiftly breaking incidents,' he wrote in the Beijing Youth Daily.

'All this information will serve as the basis for the future when the United States and Nato implement their new strategy, implement the US-Japan Security Treaty, draft an Asia Pacific security plan, and interfere in affairs around China and inside the country,' he said.

But not only was this a case of 'shaking the mountain to scare the tiger' or 'killing the chicken to scare the monkey', he said it was part and parcel of a still bigger conspiracy. The Americans want to plunge China into a domestic crisis and force China to re-arm which would divert resources from economic reforms.

By this he seems to be hinting that the timing of the attack close to the June 4 anniversary - when the authorities are fearful of anti-government protests to mark the 10th anniversary of Tiananmen - was no accident.

Another line of theories advanced have focused on the fact that those killed were Xinhua journalists and assumes that the missiles were deliberately aimed at them and not other embassy staff.

Letters published in China Daily argue that the Americans were desperate to 'silence news reports coming out of the embassy'.

Dr Lin wondered whether silencing the Chinese press was, in addition, a clever tactic to undermine Serbian war morale.

'China supports Yugoslavia in a very consistent way. Maybe the US wanted to show Yugoslavia that it could bomb anyone who supported them. The US wanted to crush their last hope.' The Chinese reporting of the conflict is linked to attacks on the Western media, especially that of the US, and allows the government to criticise Western views of press freedom - something that the West has been trying to encourage in the mainland.

'The freedom of the press is freedom to tell lies and fabricate allegations, freedom to slander . . . and freedom to carry out brazen aggression,' said the People's Daily.

'Just as the main US media have for many years endlessly launched all kinds of allegations and poison arrows at China on account of the so-called human rights and Tibet issues and they exerted in themselves in 'demonising' China, they have used the same tricks to demonise Yugoslavia,' it said.

The hypocrisy of reporting on Yugoslavia is compounded, according to the mainland press by the deliberate bombing of Kosovo refugees and delivery of substandard aid for the refugees.

The mainland authorities may be trying to milk the bombing for all they can, including World Trade Organisation membership.

But with patriotism and propaganda turned up to full blast, diplomats in Beijing wonder whether the rhetoric has gone too far for normal relations to be resumed.

While the Chinese claim all US expressions of goodwill in recent years mean nothing, reports in Washington into investigations of alleged Chinese spying and military build-up will have hardened views in America.

'The whole thing has been a reality check. It has exposed the contradictory postures of both sides,' said an Asian diplomat.