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Though NATO apologized for the accidental bombing of the embassy (above), angry protesters turned out in force in Beijing, denouncing the U.S.-led alliance. AP

It isn't clear whether the demonstrations will have political repercussions in China. Although officials may well have facilitated the protests to allow students to vent steam, demonstrations in Beijing have a history of spinning out of control. At one point, the crowd outside the American embassy was chanting "Long live May Fourth," a cry that must have given some officials pause. The May Fourth movement of 1919 began as a protest against provisions of the post-World War I Versailles Treaty that handed Chinese territory to Japan. But it quickly flowered into a broader call for modernization and democracy. The Communist Party officially embraces the movement, and top leaders last week dutifully marked its 80th anniversary. But the movement also inspired many subsequent protests, including the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, whose 10th anniversary next month is already making officials nervous. "When national pride is at stake, this could always get out of hand," says a Western diplomat in Beijing.

Before the Belgrade bombing, momentum seemed to be building toward consensus on a postwar scenario for Kosovo. The U.S. had been pushing a plan that would give troops from Russia, a vociferous critic of NATO's attacks on Serbia, a future peacekeeping role. At the same time China, which has similarly opposed NATO's bombing, had recently begun to soften its rhetoric against the U.S.-led alliance. The West had hoped to secure China's approval, or at least avoid its veto, of any peacekeeping plan that might come before the U.N. Security Council.

But the embassy attack--Beijing says three separate missiles hit the building, from "different angles"--puts everything in doubt. Just hours after the bombing, China called an emergency meeting of the Security Council in New York to protest the incident. NATO later admitted that it had mistakenly targeted the Chinese embassy, believing it to be a Yugoslav weapons depot. U.S. President Bill Clinton offered condolences and called the attack a "tragic mistake."

For weeks, Yugoslavia has presented Beijing with a foreign-policy challenge. Fearful that NATO might someday extend its presumed right of intervention in another nation's affairs to cover China's policies toward Tibet or Taiwan, Beijing initially was fiercely critical. More recently China's stance had been softening, and Beijing had lifted a ban on domestic media reports of the flood of ethnic Albanian refugees being forced out of Kosovo. The Belgrade bombing appears to have pushed China back to an aggressive anti-NATO, and ultimately anti-American, stance. "Now China is directly involved despite its efforts not to get involved," concludes a Western analyst in Beijing. Some experts now wonder whether the bombing will have an adverse effect on Premier Zhu Rongji, who many Chinese believe made overly generous concessions to the U.S. in an effort to win American approval of China's entry to the World Trade Organization. One thing is certain: the West owes China big-time.

Reported by Mia Turner/Beijing

PAGE 1  |  2


May 17, 1999

Cover Story: Madeleine's War
She helped push the U.S. into Kosovo. It was part of the assertive, moralistic new world role she is urging for America. Here's a look behind the scenes as she struggles to make it work

In-depth analysis, polls, photo essays and more

Up-to-the-minute coverage

Is President Clinton's apology for bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade sufficient?

From Our Readers
What Clinton should have said in the wake of the bombing

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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