China Asks U.S. Apology, Damages for Search of Ship


In contemptuous official statements and a front-page editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper, the Chinese government Sunday demanded a formal apology from the United States and $13 million in damages for falsely accusing China of dispatching a ship carrying materials for chemical weapons to Iran.

A State Department spokesman admitted Saturday that a Persian Gulf search of the Chinese ship Yinhe failed to turn up the two chemicals--thiodiglycol and thionyl chloride--that U.S. intelligence agencies said were aboard, supposedly bound for Iran to be used to make chemical weapons.

Stopping short of a formal apology, however, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry described the highly publicized incident as “unfortunate.”


Clearly hoping to turn the American intelligence gaffe to its advantage in two other areas of conflict with the United States--the recent U.S. trade sanctions against China for allegedly exporting missile parts to Pakistan and congressional opposition to China’s bid for the 2000 Olympic Games--the Chinese government reacted quickly and pointedly. It argued that the incident tarnished the credibility of U.S. intelligence in other areas.

In an official statement Sunday, the Chinese government said the failure by Chinese and Saudi Arabian officials, backed by American experts, to find the two chemicals on the Yinhe was an example of American arrogance as “self-styled world cop.”

The Beijing government said the incident, which lasted nearly a month as U.S. Navy ships and aircraft dogged the Yinhe in the Persian Gulf, “incurred heavy losses to China both politically and economically.”

“China also demands that the U.S. side make a public apology to the Chinese side and compensate for all the financial losses sustained by the Chinese side,” the official statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Meanwhile, a front-page editorial destined for today’s editions of the People’s Daily, official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, said the Yinhe incident was typical of Washington’s “exerting pressure on other sovereign states on the grounds of unfounded intelligence reports. In doing so, it lifts a rock only to have it dropped on its own feet.”

Describing the Yinhe allegations, Chinese officials and journalists carefully used the same language they have used to describe U.S. intelligence assertions that China secretly exported M-11 missile parts to longtime ally Pakistan last fall in violation of international arms control protocols.


Their purpose was to make the point that if the U.S. intelligence sources could be wrong once in the Yinhe case, they could also be wrong in the case of the Pakistan-bound missile parts. This case resulted in trade sanctions in key areas of the aerospace industry where the Chinese military industrial complex is dependent on U.S. exports and technology transfers.

The People’s Daily editorial said that “by provoking the Yinhe incident, the United States is creating troubles for Sino-U.S. relations and causing a confrontation with China.” However, its main concern was that the U.S. claim “throughout the Yinhe incident has seriously poisoned the international political and economic atmosphere.”

This appeared to refer to the atmosphere for the decision expected Sept. 23 in Monte Carlo on the site of the 2000 Olympic Games. At the moment, the Beijing government is preoccupied with the Olympic bid and deeply resented the timing of the U.S. allegations on the Yinhe and Pakistan missile parts.

The Sept. 23 vote by the Olympic committee is so important to the Chinese government that it delayed the release of a major new 21-part television series, “A Beijinger in New York,” until the outcome of the Olympic vote is known.

If China loses in its Olympic bid, said one person involved in the television production, the new series about the trials and tribulations of a young Chinese couple who recently emigrated to New York City will be aired immediately. If China succeeds in its bid, however, the series will be delayed for weeks and the airwaves will be flooded with Olympic theme features.