IHT - US agrees to pay China for embassy bombing

Paris, Friday, December 17, 1999

By Michael Laris - Washington Post Service

BEIJING - The United States agreed Thursday to pay China $28 million in compensation for destroying Beijing's embassy in Belgrade during NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia this spring.

China, in turn, agreed to pay the United States $2.87 million for damage to diplomatic buildings caused during the raucous demonstrations that erupted across China, at the government's urging, in response to the bombing.

''I hope this day marks the beginning of a more positive trend in U.S.-China relations,'' said David Andrews, the State Department legal adviser who has held five sets of talks since the bombing to resolve the property-compensation issue. Mr. Andrews also negotiated an agreement in August to pay $4.5 million to the families of those killed and injured in the bombing.

The U.S. government maintains that the attack May 7, which killed three Chinese people and injured 27, was a ''tragic accident'' caused by a series of intelligence errors. But China's state-run media declared at the time that the bombing had been an intentional act to keep China from its taking its rightful place in the world, and the incident caused a sharp downturn in Chinese-American ties. Protesters hurled stones at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and set fire to the residence of the U.S. consul-general in Chengdu.

The agreement reached Thursday came just hours after the new U.S. ambassador to China, Joseph Prueher, presented his credentials to President Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Prueher said the two countries had ''worked very long and hard'' to resolve the issue of property compensation.

Still, hard feelings remain, and the Chinese government reiterated its demand that the U.S. provide more information about what led to the ''barbarous act.''

A U.S. diplomat said the negotiations had taken so long because Beijing had resisted paying compensation to the United States. Official reports Thursday did not mention that payment.

Mr. Andrews suggested that the breakthrough had been related to Mr. Prueher's arrival and both sides' interest in moving forward with their relations.

After the bombing, China refused to restart a formal dialogue on human rights, nuclear nonproliferation and military affairs, and it remained unclear how the latest accord would affect those matters.

Analysts cautioned that significant issues remained.

''The bombing crystallized for the Chinese everything else that was wrong with the relationship,'' said Bates Gill, a specialist on China at the Brookings Institution, who added that China had a ''fundamental ambivalence'' in the way it looked at the United States.

The U.S. payment to Beijing is contingent on congressional approval, but a U.S. official expressed confidence that the funds would be appropriated as part of the budget for fiscal 2001, which begins Oct. 1, 2000.

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