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  • China: Key Stories
  •   China Suspends Some U.S. Ties

    By John Pomfret and Michael Laris
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, May 10, 1999; Page A01

    BEIJING, May 10 (Monday)—China announced this morning that it is suspending talks with the United States on weapons proliferation, human rights and other issues in the first concrete step the government has taken to protest NATO's deadly accidental attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

    The announcement came as thousands of protesters thronged around U.S. diplomatic missions in five Chinese cities for a third straight day. In Beijing, U.S. Ambassador to China Jim Sasser said he and 13 other staff members were being held "hostage" by the demonstrators, who hurled rocks and debris at the U.S. Embassy.

    "You could hear the windows crashing and the glass going everywhere," Sasser said in a telephone interview from inside the embassy Sunday. "Even when I tried to lie down on the floor for a couple of hours of sleep, I could still hear the chanting and rock throwing. It lasted all night."

    Early today, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Sasser's wife, Mary, and his son, Gray, were able to leave the ambassador's residence, which also had been under siege. They took shelter in a Beijing hotel.

    As the protests continued, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said China would halt its cooperation "with the United States in the fields of proliferation prevention, arms control and international security." A second statement said China would suspend its dialogue with the United States on human rights.

    "This is the first serious move," one Western diplomat said. "Whether the Chinese will resume selling missiles and nuclear stuff around the world is another question. But this shows that they are extremely upset."

    The decision to suspend some diplomatic contacts was a further indication that relations between Washington and Beijing -- which have been deteriorating for six months -- now face their worst crisis since ties were normalized between the two countries 20 years ago.

    The People's Daily -- the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party -- continued today to charge that the bombing of the embassy, in which four people were killed, was a deliberate attack. The paper's front page editorial today was titled "China will not be bullied," and it did not mention American apologies or the letter President Clinton sent to Chinese President Jiang Zemin explaining that the attack was a mistake.

    In a nationwide broadcast Sunday, Vice President Hu Jintao took note of the demonstrations in Beijing, saying the government supports "legal protest activities," but "we must prevent overreaction."

    Sunday's protests took on a harsher tone than demonstrations Saturday. An American reporter was hit with a rock, other Americans were threatened and one was rescued from an angry crowd by concerned protesters. "I want to kill Americans," shouted Li Guangqiao, a 25-year-old graduate student, as he marched toward the embassy. "Kill the big noses!"

    "This hasn't been seen in 10 years," said a police officer outside the embassy in Beijing. "The masses are huge, and it's incited people's nationalist feelings." Asked if the police could lose control of the situation, he answered: "Yes."

    Once the protesters snaked their way through the city to the front of the U.S. Embassy, demonstrators uprooted pavement slabs and hurled them at the embassy. They also tossed burning U.S. flags and flaming effigies over the compound's white iron gates, and launched three molotov cocktails.

    Several Chinese tried to scale the fence surrounding the building, but they were pulled back by police. Protesters shouted: "Take down the flag!"

    Today, police reinforcements flooded the area in front of the U.S. Embassy and kept the protesters a few extra feet from the embassy grounds. Unlike the previous days, police donned riot gear. However, protesters continued to pelt the embassy with rocks. In the southern city of Guangzhou, protesters attempted to torch the U.S. consulate, but the fire was extinguished. Earlier, protesters had burned the residence of the American consul general in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

    Signs also began to appear in Beijing's university district today calling for a boycott of American goods. "Start with Coca-Cola," said one sign. "Don't drink Coke or eat McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken," read another.

    Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that U.S. officials have voiced their concern to the Chinese government and will continue to press officials about the embassy staff's safety.

    "We are deeply worried about our people who are inside our embassies, who, if these crowds get out of hand, are going to be subject . . . to serious violence," he said.

    Sasser, a former senator from Tennessee, has been holed up in one of the embassy buildings with eight Marines, two political officers, two State Department technicians and the embassy's regional security officer. The group is living on ready-to-eat Marine meals, which the ambassador said he "could not recommend for long-term survival."

    "They started breaking windows in my residence last night," he said Sunday. "They had [300] to 400 people out there and we didn't have any Marines to protect them, just Chinese police. Today, they knocked out a lot of windows. We tried to get some people out of there this morning to catch an airplane, but they were turned back by a group of 20 protesters.

    "It is one thing for a people to demonstrate in opposition to a government or a country's policy," he said, "but it is quite a different thing for them to destroy government property. This sort of thing is very poisonous to a relationship."

    "We certainly can understand their hurt and anger arising out of this terrible, tragic accident in Belgrade," he continued, "but that was unintentional and we have apologized for that. But what's occurring now is to some extent intentional. It is intentional."

    Protesters have made four demands: that U.S. flags be flown at half staff across the United States; that NATO immediately stop its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia; that the United States issue an open apology for the attack; and that NATO be dismantled.

    In a travel advisory issued late Sunday, the State Department said it "strongly urges" U.S. citizens to defer travel to China "until the situation stabilizes." All U.S. diplomatic missions are to remain closed until Wednesday.

    Sasser said he and other diplomats were "fully prepared to evacuate if necessary." Asked where the U.S. officials would go, he responded: "That's the $64,000 question."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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