You're Not Groveling Enough, Says China

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Put your sorrys in a sack, mister. Beijing wasn’t exactly mollified by a senior U.S. diplomat’s explanation and apology for the Belgrade embassy bombing. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering’s account of how the "tragic mistake" occurred was dismissed Thursday by China’s Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as "unconvincing and unacceptable." He demanded that Washington come up with something more than the out-of-date-map explanation, and "severely punish" the individuals responsible before Beijing would consider resuming military and trade talks with the U.S.

"The Chinese have a serious problem believing that we did this by mistake," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "And even if it was a mistake, they believe the fact that such a mistake was possible is a sign that the U.S. doesn’t take China seriously as a power, and that’s going to prompt them be very obstructive in order to get Washington’s attention." Even before the bombing, China was stung by the fact that the U.S. had ignored its opinions in proceeding to attack Yugoslavia, and by the impression that President Clinton hadn’t been adequately prepared for Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s April visit to Washington. The embassy strike proved to be the last straw, unleashing a wave of sometimes violent anti-U.S. protests in China and bringing the Washington-Beijing relationship grinding to a halt. "Beijing certainly manipulated Chinese public opinion following the bombing, but its objective is a lot more than securing more favorable terms for entry into the World Trade Organization," says Dowell. "It wants the U.S. to acknowledge China’s importance on the international stage, particularly in the Asian region." And that’ll take more than a slide lecture by a U.S. diplomat on the foibles of Washington’s strategic mapmakers.