Bombing of Chinese embassy

Air Campaign

On Friday, May 7, 1999 (on day 45 of the air campaign) bombs were dropped on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO planes. This event caused even more friction between the United States and China — both in the middle of a spy scandal over stolen US knowledge by Chinese spies — well after the campaign ended. Three people were killed and 20 injured.

Official Explanation

[Image: Reuters]
Damaged embassy

The Chinese embassy in Belgrade was hit by three 1,000 lbs laser-guided bombs, dropped by a USAF B-2 bomber. According to the US, its intelligence service used outdated maps when planning the attack of targets in Belgrade for that day. NATO said it was not planning on targeting the embassy, but at least one building across the street from the embassy. According to NATO spokesman Jamie Shea the planned target was the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement. The US said: "We explained to the Chinese authorities this is an accident. We offered our sincere regrets."

On June 24, 1999, several newspapers reported that new information suggested that the CIA knew that the Chinese embassy was not the intended target, days before it was attacked by NATO on May 7 in Operation Allied Force. A mid-level CIA analyst questioned the reliability of the information available. The embassy had some similarities with the intended target, the Yugoslav Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement. His concerns never reached senior officials on time. [See KFOR chronology]

Intention or mistake

In October 1999, the Observer newspaper wrote that the embassy was taken off a prohibited targets list after NATO intelligence detected it was sending army signals to the Yugoslav forces. According to the newspaper, it was suspected it was acting as a rebroadcast station for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces, after alliance air strikes destroyed his own transmitters. This was denied by UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

NATO always denied the bombing was deliberate. The Observer, however, quoted an unnamed NATO intelligence officer who monitored Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia as saying: "NATO had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade." When the president's residence was bombed on April 23, 1999, the signals disappeared for 24 hours. "When they came on the air again, we discovered they came from the embassy compound."

China rejected explanation

On April 10, 2000, China rejected the official US explanation of the bombing of its embassy and demanded a thorough investigation. American officials declared the matter closed. The Chinese department of foreign affairs rejected the CIA's dismissal of a mid-level officer blamed for the attack shortly before April 10. China said it was not credible to pretend the US did not know the exact location of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. China did not repeat its assertion that the attack was deliberate.

In December 1999, the US paid $28 million to China to compensate for the damage of the building. Previously, the US had paid $4.5 million to the families of those killed. In return, China paid $2.8 million to compensate for damage to the US embassy in Beijing.


The CIA fired the employee held responsible and reprimanded six managers, including a senior official, for errors that led them to mistakenly identify the Chinese embassy as their intended target. There was criticism on how the Pentagon should have also assessed its role in the tragedy, since officials at one defense intelligence agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), have already acknowledged failing to update databases listing the addresses of foreign embassies.

Source: Washington Post, Reuters, AP, CNN, BBC News, New York Times.