Belgrade to Beijing and Back Again

The 1999 Chinese embassy bombing, revisited – Sale Lilly

Warheads on Foreheads. I suspect that locution – a coarse motto of American military targeting cells – is as unfamiliar to Chinese history students as a Chinese idiom might be to American military personnel. The phrase implies that American bombs fall squarely on their intended target, and nowhere else. But that has not always been the case. May 7, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Serbia. Three Chinese citizens died in the bombing, itself a part of a much larger military and diplomatic campaign led by the US to compel the Yugoslav government to cease hostilities in Kosovo. The US characterized the strike in sterile terms as “an error” and a targeting “anomaly.”

The Chinese government unequivocally disagreed, and claimed the strike was an intentional act of American malice. The bombing generated a crisis in Sino-American relations and a related protest movement across China. The same weekend of the strike in 1999, I was busy thumbing through stacks of promotional military pamphlets from the US military.