During NATO’s 1999 air war over Yugoslavia the Atlantic alliance struck hundreds of targets over Serbia and Kosovo. Most were uncontroversial: air-defense sites army headquarters and other military targets. The destruction of one target in particular however set off a wave of anti-Western—and anti-American in particular—protests half a world away. That target was the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
NATO’s bombing campaign began on March 24 1999 after peace talks meant to stop the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo collapsed. Targets in both Yugoslavia and Kosovo were struck—first the Serb air defense network that opposed NATO planes then a broader target array including Yugoslav army forces said to be directly involved in the persecution of Kosovars. The target list also included political-military targets inside the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade itself.
Overall twenty-eight thousand bombs and other munitions were exploded over Yugoslavia a country the size of Ohio. William Cohen then secretary of defense characterized Allied Force as “the most precise application of airpower in history.” Some five hundred civilians died in the bombing a remarkably low number for such a high number of munitions expended. In its own account of the campaignNATO stresses that targets were “carefully sexted” and that “massive effort was made to minimise the impact of the air campaign on the Serb civilian population.”
Despite the seemingly extensive target vetting on May 7 the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was struck by five Joint Directed Attack Munition satellite-guided bombs delivered by U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers. Three Chinese journalists—Shao Yunhuan of Xinhua and Xu Xinghu and his wife Zhu Ying of the Guangming Daily—were killed in the attack. Twenty other Chinese nationals were injured five seriously.