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The Effects on US-China Relations of the Accidental Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, 1999

Testimony of Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs
May 27, 1999

May 27, 1999

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to address the subject of U.S. China relations.

When this subcommittee initiated its series of hearings to examine U.S. policy toward China, no one could have imagined that barely two months later we would be addressing the tragic accidental bombing of the PRC Embassy in Belgrade and its affect on U.S.-China relations.

But that is where we are: confronted by our own sad but irreversible mistake; recovering from mob damage to our diplomatic facilities in China; but committed to working through this difficult period in our relationship with China.

As we all know, the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by U.S. planes acting on behalf of NATO -- which caused the death of three Chinese journalists and injury to more than 20 other personnel -- was a terrible accident and a tragic mistake that no one in NATO or our Government intended.

Since the accident the USG has acted promptly and properly to express our regret, apologies, and condolences. On Saturday night following the bombing, Secretary Albright personally went to the Chinese Embassy in Washington to express the deep sorrow and regret of the United States and to explain that the bombing was a terrible mistake. President Clinton personally signed the official Chinese condolence book in the presence of Ambassador Li in the Oval Office.

President Clinton spoke personally with President Jiang to express our nation's sincere sympathies, to assure him that the U.S. is investigating the incident, and to promise that we will convey the results of that investigation once concluded. In short, though we cannot change what happened, the U.S. has responded appropriately by expressing our deep regret and by undertaking an investigation.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, in the aftermath of the bombing, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was besieged by Chinese protestors. Embassy facilities were significantly damaged. Other U.S. posts in China also were targets of demonstrators. Guangzhou and Shanghai suffered disruptions to their work and minor damage, but in Chengdu protestors burned the residence of the Consul General. We can be thankful that our people in China suffered no loss of life or serious injury.

Mr. Chairman, I have testified on many occasions, but never in the aftermath of such events. Here in Washington, how often have we almost unthinkingly concurred in the notion that "diplomacy is our first line of defense?" Today I ask us all to reflect for a moment on just what that phrase actually meant for our diplomats in China during the past few weeks. Their lives, the lives of their families, and their possessions, were in harm's way, but they uniformly responded with dignity, courage, and resilience.

This government cannot ask more of its diplomatic corps than the service it received in China over the last few weeks. I wish to commend Ambassador Sasser and all of his staff.

In acknowledging the valor of the American diplomatic staff in China, I would be less than candid if I did not also touch on the role that the Chinese government played, or failed to play, in handling the anti-American reaction that took place throughout China. The state-run media delayed by several crucial days publishing reports of U.S. official apologies and explanations. There was an inexplicable delay in President Jiang's willingness to accept the phone call from President Clinton that I referenced earlier. China failed for several days to carry out its obligation to provide for the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel.

I understand that the Chinese word for "crisis" is a combination of the characters for "danger" and "opportunity." There are those who undoubtedly speculate, both in China and the United States, that perhaps the crisis of the last few weeks, this trough in the U.S.-China relationship, represents an opportunity for China to press for concessions from the U.S. on issues such as the terms for China's WTO accession, human rights, Tibet, and non-proliferation. These speculators are dangerously mistaken. U.S. policy in these areas is determined by clear and long-standing assessments of U.S. self-interest and fundamental values. Our standards will not change in reaction to either the bombing error in Belgrade or the Chinese reaction to it.

Specifically with respect to the World Trade Organization, our discussions with China on the terms of its accession have been on hold at China's insistence since the bombing in Belgrade. I need not state the obvious: it is in China's economic interest to accede to the WTO and Chinese leaders are cognizant of how near we are to concluding an agreement on accession. We, for our part, continue to believe that closing a commercially sound deal and achieving China's accession is strongly in our interest. Ambassador Barshefsky recently noted the necessity of a negotiating schedule that resumes "in the not too distant future" and her optimism that China wishes to move forward with respect to WTO entry. We believe it would be in the interest of both countries to do so.

As we work to answer Chinese concerns about Belgrade and put the relationship back on track, we ourselves should keep in mind the interests that in the recent past have motivated our engagement with China.

Despite our current bilateral differences, the U.S. and China continue to have compelling mutual interests in promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, working to minimize nuclear tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and advancing the economic well being of Asia. We need to continue serious discussions with the Chinese about the importance of reducing tensions across the Taiwan Strait, as well as potential areas of friction in the region, such as the South China Sea. We and China should continue to cooperate on economic issues in APEC and other regional fora.

China's cooperation is essential to keep under control technologies used in the production of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. We want to be able to continue to discuss with China steps it can take towards membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime. We have an ongoing interest in promoting the observance of human rights in China. Our principled and purposeful engagement with China includes pressing Beijing to live up to internationally-recognized human rights standards, including the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We will continue to urge the Chinese authorities to follow-up on President Jiang's overture to the Dalai Lama at the June, 1998 summit by establishing a meaningful and productive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.

The U.S.-China relationship has seen difficult times in the past and overcome them. The United States is committed to doing so once again. In the end, if China is equally committed to making the relationship work, I am hopeful we will overcome the effects of this tragic accident.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to speak.

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