Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Belgrade Bombing, the F-117 Cake, and the Tears of Premier Zhu Rongji

In a previous post I explored the possibility that the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 was intentional, with at least the partial objective of destroying wreckage of an F-117A Night Hawk Stealth fighter that Yugoslavia had shot down a few weeks previously.

I am indebted to Dr. Jeffrey Lewis for forwarding some news reports in which the fate of the wreck is discussed.

In 2001 (Fulghum & Wall, Russia Admits Testing F-117 Lost in Yugoslavia, Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 8, 2001), the Russian government acknowledged they had obtained access to F 117A wreckage and stated they used it primarily to improve the anti-Stealth performance of their anti-aircraft missiles.

In the hearsay department, an article in the September 27, 1999 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology (ed. Bruce D. Nordwall, Earthly Remains) reported, “a Russian official said that some parts had made their way to Moscow, but that the bulk of the airframe was shipped to China.”, a claim that “Pentagon analysts” dismissed “because “China...doesn’t have the industrial capability to benefit from either the design or the systems.”

Contra the Pentagon analysts, simply because China’s Stealth programs were in their infancy at the time doesn’t mean that in 1999 China would not yearn for such a cool and potentially useful trophy as fragments of an American Stealth fighter.

As is now known, Yugoslavians did not turn the entire wreck over to the Russians.

Portions are on display in the Yugoslav Museum of Aviation today and I came across an unconfirmed traveler’s tale that tourists can even purchase souvenir fragments at the museum.

As to what could have been divied up with the Chinese, the advanced targeting, sensor, and communications systems that the Russians were purportedly interested in neatly dovetail with the reported Chinese take of INU, engine nozzle, and fuselage chunks.

It certainly is plausible that the Yugoslavian government would seek to extract as much propaganda, financial, military, and geopolitical advantage as possible from the F-117A carcass, selling the biggest piece to the Soviet Union but also sharing a few juicy scraps with the PRC, the junior partner in the de facto anti-NATO alliance.

As to whether or not the United States would deem it necessary or desirable to bomb the Chinese embassy to flinders in order to destroy the F-117A wreckage, the Clinton administration suffered a certain amount of criticism for not bombing the wreckage in the wheat field where the plane had fallen order to deny it to other unfriendly parties.

Analyzing the experiences of the Kosovo conflict, RAND opined:

Heated arguments arose in Washington and elsewhere in the immediate aftermath of the shootdown over whether USEUCOM had erred in not aggressively having sought to destroy the wreckage of the downed F 117 in order to keep its valuable stealth technology out of unfriendly hands and eliminate its propaganda value...Said a former commander of Tactical Air Command...”I’m surprised we didn’t bomb it because the standard operating procedure has always been that when you lose something of real or perceived value—in this case, real technology, stealth—you destroy it.”...Reports indicated that military officials had at first considered destroying the wreckage but opted in the end not to follow through with the attempt because they could not have located it quickly enough to attack it before it was surrounded by civilians and the media.

It’s also interesting to note that the stated reason for not ordering an attack on the crash site was that it was overrun not only with Yugoslavian military types but also local rubberneckers and international journalists.

Instead of obliterating a white, Western audience the Clinton administration might have turned to a measure it had employed in the past, after the USS Cole bombing, when it faced criticism for being insufficiently martial and excessively dilatory: knocking down a Third World asset, in this case the Chinese embassy instead of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant.

Maybe the U.S. honestly believed that there was some top secret stuff in the Chinese embassy, or maybe the Clinton administration was eager to forestall G.O.P. criticism of its handling of the F-117A shootdown and decided to respond with a showy if meaningless foray against an adversary that was proving somewhat nettlesome, but was chosen because it was vulnerable and unlikely to retaliate.

As an object lesson in the perils of military and geopolitical weakness, the Chinese probably paid some attention to the fact that somehow it was their embassy, and not that of Serbian ally Numero Uno and Most Plausible and Afterwards Officially Certified F-117 Wreckage Holder, a.k.a. the U.S.S.R., that got bombed.

For whatever reason—scientific countermeasures, espionage, or design flaws--it transpired that the F-117 was not as stealthy as the United States had consistently professed. In the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, the Yugoslavians contended that its radar signature was only reduced by 50%. Chinese scuttlebutt claimed that the United States withdrew F-117s from South Korea because it was believed they could not effectively evade Chinese detection measures.

In any case, the Air Force is doing its best to consign the F-117 to the boneyard before the service life it originally promised to the U.S. Congress for this aircraft has expired, and replace it with the F22A Raptor.

My intention is not to evangelize the idea that there was F-117 wreckage in the basement of the Chinese embassy. Somebody in China knows what was really in the embassy, and I suppose one of these days they’ll go public and we’ll find out.

As the F-117 and its secrets fade into oblivion, what is worthy of further mulling over is the role that the Belgrade bombing seems to play as the creation myth of the birth of the 21st Chinese strategic military doctrine, founded on the assumption that the U.S. will unscrupulously use its military, diplomatic, and propaganda advantages not only to contain China but even to attack it when need, desire, and circumstances permit.

In this context, the Belgrade embassy is holy ground, and there are as many versions of the Truth as there are books in the Bible.

The recollections of China’s ambassador Pan Zhanlin, imbue a certain incident after the bombing with a heroic and close to mythic character.

The two comrades in charge of the embassy’s important assets were Little Wang and Little Zheng. One slept in the duty office on the fifth floor, one slept in the dormitory on the fourth floor. Little Wang pierced through the dust and smoke and by the light of the flames dsecended from the fifth floor to the fourth floor. At this time, Little Zheng emerged from the bedroom. Little Wang grabbed hold of Little Zheng and ran back upstairs. Little Zheng had already been injured and his face was flecked with blood. People who ran into them urgently asked: “Why are you going back up?” Little Wang replied: “There is something that needs doing. This is our job.” They picked up four cases of national important assets and battled through smoke and pierced through flames to get downstairs. The stairwell was cut off, they stumbled down to the third floor. Ahead of time, the embassy had made various preparations for an emergency, so these four cases of important things had already been prepared. If any untoward event had occurred, they could be picked up and moved immediately. They knew, these things were more important than life.


Rather off-puttingly, having set the stage, Pan makes no effort to tell us what was in these boxes, and instead jumps off to the next item in his story, leaving the reader with a bad case of narrativus interruptus.

However, Pan’s obvious intention is to inform the reader that they were super special “national important assets” that were not embassy intelligence or other equipment in normal everyday use—they were packed and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

And, of course, they were more important than life itself.

The active imagination of the reader is left to fill in the blanks.

On the Chinese Internet, there has been considerable speculation as to the nature of the intelligence coup that could have provoked the U.S. bombing.

In addition to F-117A parts, there are assertions that the Chinese embassy also had a Tomahawk cruise missile in the basement.

Some posters claim that the only piece of U.S. hardware that China was able to extract and ship back to Beijing was a dud JDAM dropped during the attack—a scenario that Pan contemptuously dismisses, and which seems completely unlikely given the wartime chaos surrounding the attack.

There was a dud JDAM, but it took a lengthy, delicate, and expensive excavation process in 2004 to extract it from where it had buried itself deep beneath the Chinese embassy.

There are darker versions, which imply the only harvest China reaped from the Yugoslavian war was a planeful of corpses.

The story is that at the onset of the Kosovo conflict, a thirty or so Chinese radar and materials specialists boarded an unmarked 737 plane to assist the Yugoslavian government in using multi-location radar to detect Stealth aircraft. After the F-117A was shot down, the U.S. government learned that China was supposed to receive F-117A wreckage for study and ordered the attack. After the embassy bombing a similar, unmarked plane returned to China and discharged its cargo of coffins. Depending on the poster, the airport at which this melancholy scene was acted out was either at Lanzhou or at Beijing's Nanyuan military airport.

According to these versions, the number of fatalities in the embassy bombing far exceeded the three officially acknowledged and reported in the media.

One poster claims to have been sent to Shenyang Aircraft Co. for training and received a security briefing from the Ministry of State Security using declassified documents that revealed the secrets of the embassy bombing.

I can’t quite wrap my mind around how the Ministry of State Security feels plant security is enhanced by briefings using declassified documents that trainees feel free to discuss on the Internet.

In any case, the poster declares that of the 30 so-called journalists at the embassy, at least 12 were special agents, China was extremely interested in getting its hands on F-117A wreckage, the CIA noticed Chinese “journalists” at the crash site, assumed they were spies, and the embassy bombing was ordered as a result “to destroy the physical evidence”.

I do find it suggestive that all the posts on this story seem to dance around the question of whether or not China had actually acquired F-117A wreckage.

I already noted Ambassador Pan’s mysterioso yarn-spinning above.

In the Shenyang Aircraft Co. post, the writer jumps from China’s interest in the wreckage to declaring that the U.S. deciding it wanted to destroy “physical evidence” without confirming that the embassy actually contained bits of the F-117A.

So I’m leaning towards the conclusion that the Chinese government wants to spread a certain story about the Belgrade bombing in which there was F-117A wreckage in the embassy, but is withholding this detail as “still classified”.

Maybe the Chinese defense industry studied the wreckage and profited greatly from it; or got the fragments, threw millions of dollars at the problem, and was unable to do anything useful with it, which is probably not an uncommon fate in Chinese reverse-engineering boondoggles; or the spooks on the ground did get the stuff from the Yugoslavs but were unable to extract it from the burning embassy; or they never got it in the first place but, for reasons of national pride, want people to think that they did.

Whatever the real outcome, the “F-117 wreckage in the embassy” story has a lot of legs inside China.

On the other hand, the legend that China supplied significant assistance to the Yugoslavian air force in shooting down the F 117A doesn’t seem to have a lot of traction.

Global Views, a Chinese magazine, posted an interesting article (Global Views website hopeless; article posted on a Chinese bulletin board; written in 2006 according to internal evidence) containing interviews with several of the Yugoslavian officers involved in the shootdown, which confirms and amplifies the story that NATO Commander Wesley Clark was told.

1960s tube amplifier enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that the Yugoslavian air force attributes the shootdown of the F117A to P-12 type vacuum tube-technology Russian radars so old the U.S. considered them obsolete.

According to their account, the F117A Stealth fighter was detectable by antique radar operating at wavelengths of 2 meters—a detail that had supposedly escaped the Stealth designers, who operated on the assumption that the plane would only have to be invisible to modern centimeter and millimeter wavelength radars.

On the evening of March 27, Yugoslavia’s anti-aircraft defenses detected an aircraft entering Yugoslavian airspace at a distance of 80 km. The radar was immediately shut off, since U.S. planes were armed with radar seeking missiles that would fire automatically within 20 seconds and track the signal to its source and destroy it. The Yugoslavian anti-aircraft crews had been rigorously trained to either acquire and fire on a target or turn off their radio within this 20-second window. The radar was switched on when the target was about 15 km away and a barrage of SA-2 SAM missiles were fired manually. The F117A fell to earth. Witnesses said, “It looked like a sparrow shot from the sky.”

The shootdown raised an important tactical and strategic issue for NATO. Bad weather had limited helicopter operations and the U.S. was relying on high-altitude bombing to advance its war objectives. Therefore, a great deal of attention was paid to identifying and disabling Yugoslavia’s anti-aircraft facilities.

The Global Vision article reports that the headquarters of the 126 Mid-Air Detection and Anti-Aircraft Battalion—which had detected the plane—was attacked 11 times, each time with 5 JDAM bombs. The 250th Battalion—which fired the offending SAMs--was attacked 22 times.

The Yugoslav asserts that the 3rd Brigade of the 250th Battalion, whose missiles actually brought down the plane, suffered no fatalities or casualties during the war, leading them to brag: “We’re the real Stealth”.

The F-117A shootdown provided a psychological boost to the Yugoslavs which lives on to this day.

Every year on March 27 the 250th Battalion, now part of the Serbian Air Force, holds a raucous party. The main event occurs when a large cake bedecked with candles is rolled out. On the top is a rendering of an F-117A Nighthawk in chocolate. At precisely 8:42 pm, the exact time of the shootdown, the first slice is cut—through the port wing, which is the one severed by the SAM barrage.

No word as to whether the cake is inscribed with the taunt “Neener Neener” or the Serbian equivalent.

On the other hand, the U.S. was dismayed by the loss of its aircraft.

The RAND report states:

[The downing] meant not merely the loss of a key U.S. combat aircraft but the dimming of the F-117’s former aura of invincibility, which for years had been of incalculable psychological value to the United States.

For psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists as well as political scientists, I think a fruitful field would be the study of compensatory psychological mechanisms of weaker countries that have endured American military attack.

As I’ve noted above, we don’t know if the Chinese were able to extract any intelligence treasures from the embassy, or even if the embassy was actually attacked on purpose, for that matter.

What we do know is that the embassy attack excited fears of anger and impotence within the Chinese elite, because they could not prevent or deter the attack, defend against the attack, or retaliate after the attack.

On the psychological level, the Chinese coped with the bombing both by venting their outrage and by fixating on theories that China was able to claim a victory by extracting something of enormous value—F 117-A parts, a Tomahawk missile, a JDAM—that mitigated the blow and “saved China ten years” in its military development.

The Shenyang poster writes:

Upon learning the this genuine picture, I believe that the U.S. attack on our embassy came from the fact that China’s accurate reporting of the Yugoslavia war provoked America to anger and retribution. At the very least we can say that China’s strength really was incapable of hindering America’s risky move. Now we know, and it causes us to appreciate even more profoundly that a nation, when it is poor and weak, is without recourse and pitiful (How helpless and evoking bitterness in people’s hearts were the tears of Premier Zhu Rongji as he wept at the airfield when the remains of the martyrs were transported back to China).


I might add that Zhu Rongji, while not a hard-case sociopath like some members of the CCP leadership, is no cupcake. As Premier he projected a tough git’er done persona that would make an emotional expression like crying at the airport a memorable and significant image.

On a more practical level...well, I’ll let the Shenyang poster describe the consequences for military planners—and military contractors—both in China and the United States.

Detailing a litany of high-tech armaments from fighters to cruisers to nuclear submarines funded with a RMB 50 billion allocation, he concludes:

Afterwards we learned that after the bombing China engaged in deep reflection and understood reality more clearly...all of these [developments] transmit this single message to the world—China yearns to be strong and great!


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fiji's Bainimarama Shows the China Card--But Will He Play It?

Thanks to David Stanley and his South Pacific Travel Blog for the his updates on conditions in Fiji.

Australia’s strategy of active intervention in the affairs of the region under the flag of stability, security, and democracy promotion is taking it on the chin in Fiji.

Canberra’s profoundly flawed favorite, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, was deposed last December in a coup led by Commander Frank Bainimarama.

In Fiji, the unfinished business of empire—tribal loyalties, race, and class—have overwhelmed Australia’s preferred narrative of economic development and regional security cooperation under its leadership.

Domestic and regional opposition to the coup has collapsed and Bainimarama is now free to play the China card—threatening closer ties to Beijing to force Australia and New Zealand to back off on sanctions.

And it’s working.

Find out what happened when Australia made the wrong choices and found itself on the losing side in Fiji’s difficult transition to a democratic multi-ethnic post-colonial society.

The leader of Fiji’s coup, Frank Bainimarama, has turned to Beijing in response to sanctions led by Australia and New Zealand.

As I wrote in The Poisoned Cup: Racial and Neo-Colonial Politics in Fiji, Fiji is one of several South Pacific societies struggling with a transition beyond the feudal and aristocratic social institutions of the colonial era, and Australia’s clumsy attempt to exploit the subsequent political divisions to assert a regional leadership role.

Australia placed a disastrous bet on the faction of Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase (democratically-elected, corrupt, reckless promoter of chauvinist policies) in a struggle with the leader of Fiji’s armed forces, Commodore Bainimarama (authoritarian, patriot, little patience for constitutional niceties, maybe has his fingers in a pie or two).

According to David Stanley’s blog, it appears very difficult for Australia to beat Bainimarama over the head with the democracy promotion club on the international propaganda front:

The Fiji Army has released recordings which seem to prove that the deposed SDL party rigged the May 2006 general election in Fiji by stuffing ballot boxes in 10 marginal urban seats...If the allegations can be proved, the actions of Commodore Bainimarama in removing the Qarase government from power have been vindicated.

The international real estate developers and resort operators who are the backbone of Fiji’s economy have probably thrown in their lot with Bainimarama in defiance of Australia.

Their interests would be threatened by the return of the deposed Qarase government, whose dangerous political game of promoting blatantly racialist policies in Fiji’s multi-racial society included a proposed law that would have given control of the nation’s beachfronts to Fiji’s tribal chiefs and forced the resorts to pay them for access rights.

With the recent announcement that the Great Council of Chiefs has decided to work with the Bainimarama government, the local Fijian elite has opted for unity over confrontation.

Australia is deprived of the moral high ground, with diminished economic leverage, and with no hope of backing a serious local challenger to the coup.

Now Bainimarama is holding the high cards and dealing from a position of strength, not desperation, to dilute the sanctions that the West has imposed.

Fiji has already successsfully split off many South Pacific Island nations from the Australian and New Zealand position, and Bainimarama is relying on a favorable report from an “Eminent Persons Group” composed largely of islanders to smooth the way for normalization of relations:

The four-member EPG headed by Vanuatu's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Sato Kilman is on a fact-finding mission to Fiji to access the cause of the December 5 military coup. The EPG also comprises of Samoa's Minister for Natural Resources and Environment Faumuina Luiga, retired Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea Sir Arnold Amet and retired Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove.

While the military action copped huge criticism by its bigger neighbours Australia and New Zealand, members of the Melanesian Spear Head Group (MSG) countries sanctioned the action prompting the Forum to meet and send off the EPG mission to Fiji.

"Besides Australia and New Zealand, the other forum island countries have left us to sort our own affairs," Bainimarama added.

The diplomatic end-game is now being played, with Bainimarama threatening to “Look North” and displace Australia and New Zealand from their positions of influence in Fijian economic and foreign affairs.

In a sure sign that things are not going swimmingly in its Fiji policy, the Australian government has been keeping its head down and allowing the designated moderate in the regional security partnership, New Zealand, do the talking.

Bainimarama fired the first salvo. On January 22nd, the Sydney Morning Herald carried this riposte:

FIJI should not look to China for support as it won't find any, warns New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Hmmm. Tough talk. What’s behind it?

Miss Clark said that during talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the Philippines just over a week ago she was reassured that China supported New Zealand's actions in the Pacific.

''China indicated through him they were very concerned about instability in the South Pacific and specifically indicated considerable support for what New Zealand was doing in the region,'' she said.

Not a particularly convincing or intimidating statement.

It also begs the question of why New Zealand finds it necessary to speak on China’s behalf.

Prime Minister Clark would have been more convincing if she had been able to say that China supports the sanctions on Fiji—or, better yet, if the Chinese had said so themselves.

The Chinese government is certainly sympathetic to Bainimarama and would love to make diplomatic hay in the region in the expense of Australia and New Zealand.

But Fiji is a long way from home and lacks a large and assertive Chinese community to provide political and diplomatic cover.

So one can expect China to tread softly and respond discretely and circumspectly to Bainimarama’s request for financial support to replace the EU and Australian and New Zealand aid cut off by sanctions.

And not take offense at Clark’s piece of pre-emptive spin-meistering meant to forestall Fijian efforts to expand the diplomatic dialogue beyond the immediate region.

Especially since the diplomatic front against the coup seems to be crumbling on its own.

There have been indications that Australia’s push to assert a regional leadership role that includes a right to intervene militarily in the affairs of the region has left it overextended and underappreciated, perhaps even by the United States. Ganesh Chand, an important Indo-Fijian political figure and founder of the University of Fiji, discussed the Fiji’s geopolitical situation in December.

Chand says the U.S., given its keenness to curtail Chinese influence in the region, will ultimately send a strong message to Australia that its policy of alienating institutions and people in Fiji has not been working. The U.S. has already been doing this indirectly through annual state department reports.

‘'Sooner than later, the U.S. will make known to Australia that its policy in Fiji (and the Pacific) has been alienating the regional nations from the western sphere of influence. China is ready with open arms and cheque books to take the place of the western nations. "

This may be another example of wishful thinking and pre-emptive spinning on par with Clark’s statement.

The Bush administration is primarily interested in buttressing shaky international support for its diplomatic and military moves in the Middle East, and Australia is one of its few loyal allies. It is unlikely to cut the legs out from under Australia’s Howard administration over Fiji.

However, with the Canberra-Wellington alliance embroiled in a series of acrid disputes with the intended objects of its neo-colonialist benevolence in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and the Bainimarama regime making serious diplomatic headway with the island nations of the region, America’s sheriff and deputy sheriff in the Antipodes may have decided that a discrete climbdown vis a vis Fiji is in order.

The New Zealand Herald reported:

...the Government struggles over what stance to take on Fiji, where it is increasingly clear there is no real prospect of the ousted Government of Laisenia Qarase returning to power.

The New Zealand government, although it had threatened that cut-off from the U.N. peacekeeping cash cow would be a consequence of the coup, has refused to criticize a recent decision by the UN to recruit three dozen Fijian soldiers for peacekeeping duties in Iraq.

Prime Minister Clark’s remarks warning Fiji off from the China connection also implied that a face-saving timeline could also lead to sanctions being lifted with Bainimarama still holding power:

Helen Clark said New Zealand's position - of not moving on sanctions until Fiji started to restore democracy - stood.

"The New Zealand Government position is very clear - that is we are waiting to see from those who have seized power in Fiji what their proposals are for a pathway back to constitutional government, and that of course would include some very clear signals that political freedom and freedom of speech and media are to return to Fiji.




And signals.

To “start” to restore democracy.

That doesn’t seem too hard.

How about five years?

On January 29, Fijilive reported:

Fiji's interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has told the Forum Eminent Persons Group that it will take Fiji five years before democracy is restored.

Well, maybe five years is a bit too much, according to the New Zealand government:

"If there's going to be an interim administration in Fiji that's not democratically elected for five years then sanctions would stay in place for five years."

Seems this situation could go on forever.

Those sanctions are starting to sound pretty toothless.

Well, they are.

In December, the Government suspended new aid initiatives in Fiji and reviewed existing ones.

It confirmed yesterday that of the $8 million aid funding for the 2006/07 year, just $1.8 million would be cut as much of the money had been allocated before the coup.

Next year, $3.6 million is scheduled to be cut, although it will be available to be rechannelled through NGOs.

Doesn’t look like the Bainimarama government’s going anywhere.

Australia and New Zealand seem about ready to throw in the towel.

It looks like Prime Minister Clark has been charged with sending the message to Bainimarama: “You’ve won, but don’t rub our noses in it. Don’t play footsie with China and upset the regional security applecart and we’ll let the coup matter slide.”

Bainimarama is not home free. By opposing indigenous Fijian chauvinism and standing with the Indo-Fijians, Bainimarama set up a confrontation with the Great Council of Chiefs—a hereditary aristocracy with genuine political power that has traditionally commanded the loyalty of native Fijians-- which had originally refused to support the coup.

Bainimarama seems to be banking on ordinary Fijians accepting the army as a legitimate and effective modern political institution, and resigning themselves to the sidelining of the admittedly archaic and non-representative Great Council of Chiefs.

Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, a research fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii, commented:

Interestingly, this coup challenges, not only the rule of law, but also the centrality of chiefly authority as manifested in the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). This is partly because of perceptions that some chiefs have unequally benefited from current arrangements without redistributing the benefits to their people.

In reaction to the military takeover, a number of chiefs called on their people in the military not to support the commander’s "illegal takeover". Amongst them was the Tui Namosi, Ratu Suliano Matanitobua and Marama Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, who called on their men in the military to "lay down their arms and return to their villages."

The soldiers from Namosi, however, refused to heed their chief’s call and came out in the media expressing their support for the commander. Further, a delegation from Nabukavesi Village in Namosi this week presented their sevusevu (present) to the military commander to show support for the military takeover.

In another show of defiance to chiefly authority, Commodore Bainimarama shamelessly ordered the eviction of his own high chief of the Kubuna Confederacy, the Vice-President and Roko Tui Bau, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, from his official residence. Ratu Joni is a man who, for many Fijian citizen, represents unity. He is not only a high chief, but also a former high court judge and respected member of the legal fraternity who took on the Vice-President position with much reluctance.

On January 11, the Great Council of Chiefs agreed to work with Bainimarama:

THE last bastion of opposition to the takeover of power in Fiji by the military commander, Frank Bainimarama, appeared to collapse yesterday when the Great Council of Chiefs threw its weight behind the new interim administration.

The council chairman, Ratu Ovini Bokini, said it was time for Fiji to "move forward" and he called on the ousted prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, and his colleagues to work towards the country's betterment.

The Great Council of Chiefs is a elitist colonial anachronism created by the British. Hopefully it will be able to accommodate the forces toward modernization and egalitarianism unleashed by Fiji’s political turmoil, and the ethnic and class forces tearing at Fiji—and the political opportunists who exploit them—can be overcome by a shared desire for unity and peace and quiet.

As long as the Western powers lack the stomach for serious intervention in Fiji, and if Bainimarama can gain sub rosa support from China and the other Asian powers to keep its critical tourist and sugar industries humming despite government sanctions by the West, his coup has a good chance of succeeding.

And that will leave Australia holding a losing hand--and China in a favored position in Suva.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why China Hates Satellite Guided Munitions, Part 1: The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999

China’s first direct experience with satellite-guided munitions occurred on the night of May 7, 1999, when at least five GPS-guided JDAM bombs slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese nationals and wounding 20.

Now, with the furor over China’s anti-satellite test, which places US GPS and spy satellites at risk, is a good time to recap the Belgrade bombing incident and contribute some new information contained in the memoirs of the Chinese ambassador to Yugoslavia during the bombing, Pan Zhanlin.

The JDAM used in the attack is a very successful and relatively inexpensive concept in ordnance by which dumb bombs are, as it were, sent to college, and equipped with a GPS-corrected guidance system that generates corrective adjustments to movable vanes after the bomb is dropped from a plane, enabling reported accuracies of within 13 meters.

The conventional, though implausible, narrative at the time of the embassy bombing was The Bomb was Smart... But We Goofed!

In testimony before Congress in July 1999, George Tenet explained how they meant to bomb some logistics office of the Yugoslavian army, they used an outdated map, somebody did catch the error but the message didn’t get through, the system broke down, sooooooo sorry.

On October 17, 1999, the Sunday Observer, in cooperation with a Danish paper, Politiken, came out with what would seem to be a blockbuster report: that the United States had deliberately targeted the embassy in order to remove a key rebroadcast station directing the military activities of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in their struggle to resist NATO forces.

I am embarrassed to admit that my Googling skills haven’t turned up a direct link to the article, but the Observer’s sister publication, the Guardian, ran a story summarizing the article’s conclusions.

As to why the Chinese government dared to take the provocative step of hosting a Yugoslavian military radio facility, the article speculates that Beijing cooperated with Belgrade in order to acquire data on U.S. military capabilities:

Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists - the official Chinese version - but intelligence officers.
The Chinese military attache, Ven Bo Koy, who was seriously wounded in the attack and is now in hospital in China, told Dusan Janjic, the respected president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, only hours before the attack, that the embassy was monitoring incoming cruise missiles in order to develop counter-measures.

Interesting that, according to this report, the Chinese were geared up to monitor cruise missiles sailing over the horizon, and the U.S. surprised them all of a sudden by dropping a JDAM in their laps on a thirty second trajectory from straight overhead.

Wonder if the choice of ordnance was meant to achieve an objective—or to send a message?

According to the Observer, the behind the scenes U.S. attitude to the embassy bombing was: Mission Accomplished.

British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced the "cock-up". The US colonel was relaxed. "Bullshit," he replied to the complaints. "That was great targeting ... we put three JDAMs down into the (military] attache's office and took out the exact room we wanted ...

This story died the death in the U.S. media (I only saw references to it in the English papers at the time) and, to its everlasting credit, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) took the matter up.

In an October 22, 1999 article, FAIR wrote:

So far, the reaction in the mainstream U.S. media has been a deafening silence. To date, none of America's three major network evening news programs has mentioned the Observer's findings. Neither has the New York Times or USA Today, even though the story was covered by AP, Reuters and other major wires. The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news brief in its "World Briefing" (10/18/99), under the headline "NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing."By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada's most prestigious paper, ran the full Reuters account prominently in its international section (10/18/99). So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Times (all 10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which collaborated with the Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran the story on its website.

FAIR and its supporters rattled a few media cages, and got dismissive replies from the New York Times and USA Today.

The Times’ Andrew Rosenthal characterized the Observer article as “not terribly well sourced”.

In its rebuttal, FAIR stated:

FAIR contacted journalists at both the Observer and Politiken. According to the Observer's U.S. correspondent, Ed Vulliamy, its foreign editor, Peter Beaumont, and Politiken reporter Jens Holsoe, their sources included the following:

--A European NATO military officer serving in an operational capacity at the four-star level - a source at the highest possible level within NATO--confirmed three things: (1) That NATO targeted the Chinese embassy deliberately; (2) That the embassy was emitting Yugoslav military radio signals; and (3) That the target was not approved through the normal NATO channels but through a second, "American-only" track.

--A European NATO staff officer at the two-star level in the Defense Intelligence office confirmed the same story.--

Two U.S. sources: A very high-ranking former senior American intelligence official connected to the Balkans - "about as high as you can get," according to one reporter -- confirmed that the embassy was deliberately targeted. A mid-ranking current U.S. military official, also connected to the Balkans, confirmed elements of the story and pointedly refused to deny that the embassy had been bombed deliberately.

--A NATO flight controller based in Naples and a NATO intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio broadcasts from Macedonia each confirmed that NATO's signals intelligence located Yugoslav military radio signals coming from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. When they informed their superiors, they were told that the matter would be handled further up in the chain of command. Two weeks later, the embassy was bombed.

--An official at the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency told the reporters that NATO's official explanation, which involves a faulty map of Belgrade, is a "damned lie."

Finally, the Times, still coasting on its Pentagon Papers reputation in those halcyon, pre-Judy Miller days, replied to one correspondent:

"There is nothing in the distinguished history of the Times -- where reporters have risked their lives, been threatened with jail and indeed gone to jail to protect the public's right to know things the government does not want to get out -- to suggest that we would withhold such a story."


A 1999 report by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom discusses how the U.K. media spun the war, notes in passing:

Equally, when the Chinese embassy was hit, resulting in several deaths, the true consequences the action were hidden. Television pictures illustrating the structural damage to the building were shown, the bodies of two passing Serbian school children were not. The media played along.

Certainly, the media was willing to give NATO forces the benefit of the doubt and provide them not only with enthusiastic cheerleading but active image management during the Kosovo intervention.

The fact the New York Times was unwilling to pick up the Observer story cannot be attributed solely to the Gray Lady’s irreproachably high standards in journalism.

When weighing the credibility of the Observer report, it is also worth recalling that, by CIA Director Tenet’s own admission, of the 900 targets struck during the Kosovo war, the CIA was responsible for only one targeting package—the bombing that was ostensibly meant to take out an insignificant Yugoslavian paper-shuffling operation and ended up destroying the Chinese embassy’s intelligence directorate instead.

Another investigative report confirmed that, not only was the target selected by the CIA, the entire mission was flown by the United States outside of standard NATO channels (NATO, of course, was the vehicle for European and American intervention in the Kosovo conflict; it was not a U.S.-directed war).

This is not my day for coming up with direct links to original reporting, but I found a posting on Venik’s Aviation of what looks like an accurate transcription of a May 2000 article from Air Forces Monthly, a European publication, detailing the mission.

It delivers the goods on what actually struck the Chinese embassy (not “guided missiles” or “laser guided munitions” as other outlets reported):

In the early hours of May 7, 1999, a USAF B-2 Spirit bomber, escorted by EA-6B defence suppression aircraft and F-15C fighters, dropped three GPS-guided Joint Defence Air Munition (JDAM) bombs on the Chinese Embassy in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade.

As to how the targeting “error” slipped by NATO:

It should be noted that, in an interview with the author, NATO spokesman Lee McClenny confirmed that the targeting information did not go through JTF NOBLE ANVIL, or any other NATO structure, in contrast to Tennet's [sic] official public statements. Instead, the co-ordinates were passed directly from the CIA to Whiteman Air Force Base, the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, where it was programmed into the JDAMs. Mr McClenny asserted that the entire process had remained 'Stateside', hence the failure of NATO staff to 'scrub' the target to check its accuracy, authenticity and location.

When asked, the CIA again asserted that the story given by Tennet [sic] to the House Committee was true, but claimed that the targeting information went from the CIA to the Pentagon to be processed. The Pentagon was only prepared to say that "some of the F-117 and B-2 missions were used as 'national assets' and therefore did not pass through NATO command structures", despite the requirement under the NATO charter to clear all missions carried out under NATO auspices with the NATO general council...

As to whether the United States would take the radical step of bombing a Chinese embassy simply to disrupt Milosevic’s peripatetic radio network, the article speculates that not only was the embassy’s spook contingent acquiring Elint (not Internet-ready lint, but electronic intelligence) on U.S. cruise missile launches, as had been reported in the Guardian article cited above; it was also field testing a passive sensing device that could detect Stealth aircraft.

The article posits that the system may have worked, it may have been provided targeting information to Yugoslavian air defenses, and may have been responsible for the shoot-down of an F-117 Stealth fighter two weeks before the bombing.

The new Passive Coherent Location System (PCLS) capable of acquiring stealth platforms and is also un-jamable, due to the lack of any emissions from the monitoring system. As a result, the PCLS is also immune to Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) and conventional Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). ..

In the light of this, it would seem to be relevant to consider that the F-117 lost over Serbia was lost two weeks prior to the strikes on the Chinese Embassy. On the same night that the F-117 was lost, another returned to base with extensive damage. If the PCLS was to be on the verge of deployment, then the Kosovo campaign would have presented the Chinese military establishment with an unprecedented and un-missable opportunity to validate the system in the field. It should also be noted that Belgrade and Beijing have close military ties and it is probable that, were the system in operation, the targeting locks provided by the PCLS would be relayed to Serbian air defences.

The author poses the interesting possibility that the Chinese had compromised US Stealth technology, and that’s why the Stealth bomber that struck the embassy was accompanied by conventional, radar visible escorts:

Furthermore, if the stealth assets were as 'low-observable' as is claimed, the US would have seen no necessity in escorting these assets with non stealth defensive aircraft such as EA-6Bs and F-15Cs as they would not only have been redundant, but would have provided conventional air defence radars with a track on the overall package.

In July 1999, a Hong Kong magazine, Kai Fang, described Chinese intelligence operations in Belgrade in circumstantial detail, with particular attention to the military attache Ren Baokai (whose name was rendered in the Observer article as Ven Bo Koy), who headed a 12-person PLA team in Belgrade. Apparently, Ren’s contributions to Chinese knowledge of U.S. military secrets was so great his fate attracted the personal attention of China’s highest leadership:

...on 23 June, Guangming Ribao carried a report entitled "Chinese Military Attaches amidst the Flames of War." According to the practice in mainland China, this report was apparently a routine "report of positive propaganda." However, it also gave up, unintentionally, a very important secret: After the CPC embassy was destroyed in a missile attack on 8 May, what concerned the CPC top leadership the most was the fate of Ren Baokai, a Chinese military attache in its embassy in Yugoslavia.

As a matter of fact, when the news of the bombing of the Chinese embassy first came out, except for two persons who were already confirmed dead, a dozen of people were reported missing. However, according to this report, the CPC's "relevant departments" had already been informed of the missing of Ren Baokai by that time, "the leading comrades of the party Central Committee, the State Council, and the Central Military Commission showed great concern over the matter," and the PLA Headquarters of General Staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly issued a secret order that "Ren Baokai has to be sought out at whatever cost." It was not until over 8 o'clock local time that Ren Baokai was found injured from under the ruins. After he was rushed to the hospital, the CPC made an unusual request that Yugoslavia do all it could to save Ren Baokai; meanwhile, the CPC also asked the Yugoslav Military Medical University to provide medical support for Ren Baokai's treatment. Four days later, Ren Baokai was taken back to China by a special plane, and was received by Jiang Zemin and other leaders.

The Kai Fang article also proposes that the key role of Ren’s team in the Yugoslav shootdown of the F117 drove the United States to the momentous step of attacking China’s embassy in Belgrade.

Therefore, the only conclusion that one can draw to explain why the Chinese embassy was attacked by the United States with missiles is that the CPC's military espionage operation carried out inside the embassy had already constituted a realistic threat to the NATO.

The author of the Kai Fang piece described the US attack as a complete success:

It has been disclosed that before the bombing incident, the CPC had already obtained a host of electronic information on the NATO's air strikes, and had stored a considerably rich amount of combat reference data. However, all the information and data it had gathered was destroyed by US-made missiles, and the important equipment used for further monitoring the NATO's military operational methods was no longer in existence. This apparently made the CPC burning with a frenzy of rage...

Certainly, if the United States believed that intelligence assets within the Chinese embassy had contributed materially to the downing of any U.S. aircraft, whether Stealth or conventional, a savage strike on the embassy, both to disable the operation and put the Chinese on notice, is certainly not out of the question.

But I, for one, wonder if China actually possessed the wherewithal in 1999 to crack the Stealth puzzle, or if they would take the near suicidal risk of passing targeting information to the Yugoslavs if they had it.

We can now bring some more recent, first-hand information to the mix.

China’s Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time, Pan Zhanlin, has written a Chinese-language memoir entitled My Encounter with War .

Perhaps since it is largely a rather turgid and uninformative recounting of the chronology of the Kosovo crisis and offers no tell-all details about what China was really up to in the Balkans, it’s available free on-line.

Nevertheless, his account does offer some interesting and perhaps important details.

Living in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign, Ambassador Pan became something of an expert on precision-bombing tactics, and he reports on the effect of the five bombs in detail:

The first bomb entered the side of the building at an angle near the roof and tore through to the first floor and detonated at a bottom corner at the dormitory, tearing a pit several meters deep. One of the fatalities and many of the injuries occurred here. The second bomb hit the middle of the roof and went through to the first floor auditorium, causing no fatalities but giving Ambassador Zhan food for thought by incinerating his office and melting the frame of his day bed. The third bomb hit the northwest corner and blasted through several floor, killing two people. The fourth bomb came in a window of the half basement, exploded, destroyed the embassy clubhouse and shattered the building’s structural members. The fifth bomb crashed through the roof of the ambassador’s villa. Fortunately for Ambassador Zhan, who was there at the time, it didn’t explode. Since B2s drop their bombs in even numbers to keep the plane balanced, there was speculation that perhaps a sixth bomb had also entered the basement; but it was never found.

Venik’s website has a photograph of a fragment of a JDAM recovered from the Chinese embassy which is on display at the Museum of Yugoslav Aviation near the Belgrade airport. He identifies it as a 2000 pound MK 84 bomb, the biggest bang in the JDAM arsenal.

As to the damage the embassy sustained, news photos and reports show that the facade was blown off one side of the building from roof to ground, and extensive damage and injuries resulted (rescue teams did not find and extract Ren Baokai until more than 8 hours after the attack) but the building did not pancake.

The Chinese were forced to abandon the embassy because of the unexploded and as yet unlocated bomb. Nobody dared redevelop the site and the derelict embassy became an eyesore. Finally the Serbian government raised the funds for the expensive and complex job of removing the bomb.

On July 3, 2004, People’s Daily carried a brief item:

Defense Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Prvoslav Davinic said on July 1 that an unexploded missile has been dug out from the ruins of the Chinese Embassy. At midnight May 7, 1999, the NATO led by the United States launched a missile attack on the Chinese Embassy, with five missiles hitting the embassy, leaving three Chinese reporters dead, more than 20 diplomats wounded and the embassy building devastated. One of the missiles did not exploded [sic].

The article includes a picture of the unexploded bomb in situ, and an exterior shot of the place where the bomb was found.

I leave it to structural engineers and ordnance enthusiasts to assess whether this damage is consistent with an assault of five JDAMs meant to destroy the entire embassy; a surgical strike to take out the military attache’s office; or the aftermath of a dud-studded fiasco.

Concerning the importance of Ren Baokai, Ambassador Pan states that Ren’s fate was indeed the subject of urgent queries from Beijing in the eight hours before he was found.

Taken together with the Guangming Ribao report cited above by Kai Fang magazine, we can safely make the inference that, yes, China’s military attache on the spot monitoring America’s latest high-tech war with China’s most secret and sensitive military technology was probably a pretty important guy.

Was the high-level attention to Ren’s fate was prompted by the institutional concern that the CCP reserves for its most capable and productive operatives, or was Chinese intelligence desperate to get Ren back alive in order to obtain some crucial information that Ren had somehow forgotten to write down and transmit to Beijing while he was sitting in an embassy full of secure communications equipment?

I lean toward the former explanation, but I suppose we could ask Ren himself. The last I was able to find, he was back in Belgrade serving as military attache to China’s embassy to Serbia-Montenegro.

Ambassador Pan is anxious to characterize the American attack as intentional and motivated by pure cussedness: to break the back of the Milosevic regime by demonstrating to its allies that diplomatic support was not only useless but positively dangerous.

He carefully if awkwardly debunks the scenarios that the embassy was bombed because Milosevic was sheltering or visiting there, or that it was rebroadcastingYugoslav military communications.

No reference is made to any electronic intelligence activities by China that might have provoked the strike.

Concerning the shootdown of the F117, Pan reports that the scuttlebutt in diplomatic circles was that the plane was located using the Czech Tamara anti-stealth system. His informants told him it couldn’t detect the Stealth aircraft, but that the passage of the plane through sensor coverage left a distinctive “hole” in the CRT display. The Yugoslavs noticed this anomaly and used it to unleash a barrage of 30 SAM missiles at the place where they guessed that the fighter would be, bringing it down.

Pan might be peddling disinformation but, given the fact that not only China but the United States have been interested in acquiring Tamara systems, I would take issue with the conclusion of the AFM and Kai Fang articles that China was field testing a major breakthrough in anti-Stealth detection in Yugoslavia and using it to shoot down American planes.

It seems more likely that Yugoslavia was using the Tamara equipment rather than deploying some Chinese beta version. The Czech system would have been a vital piece of technology that the Yugoslavs owned and were sharing with the deeply interested Chinese, instead of the other way around.

Also, from my layman’s point of view, the Tamara system (or anything like it for that matter), requiring multiple sensing locations linked to a central processor by microwave, does not look like something that could be installed in somebody’s office in the embassy.

If this is correct, the idea that the United States would destroy the Chinese embassy because its military attache was kibitzing with the Yugoslavian army over an Eastern European anti-Stealth system installed somewhere else in Belgrade—or because we wanted to decapitate China’s military intelligence network in Yugoslavia to make sure that data on successful Stealth countermeasures did not make it back to China--seems to be rather implausible.

There is a third possibility, in addition to the rebroadcast and Elint scenarios: the F-117 wreckage story.

And it has a radically different outcome.

The Chinese Internet is rife with urban legends concerning the Belgrade strike. Nobody regards it as accidental, and many Chinese seem willing to ascribe all sorts of shenanigans to the Chinese embassy that provoked the attack.

The most interesting scenario is one that the poster attributes to “a private encounter with a Chinese naval officer who was slightly tipsy”.

According to this informant, the Yugoslavian government had recovered the wreckage of the shot-down F-117 and sold key pieces of it to China. The navigation system, fuselage fragments with the Stealth coating, and high temperature nozzle components of the engine were spirited into the basement of the Chinese embassy. Unfortunately, there was a locator beacon inside the INU powered by a battery and, before the Chinese could discover and disable it, the U.S. military was alerted to the location of the F-117 fragments.

In this version of the story, at least, there is a happy ending for the Chinese. The U.S. attacked the embassy with a laser-guided bomb meant to penetrate to the basement and destroy the embassy and the F-117 prize, but it didn’t explode!

The wreckage made it to China (in the special plane Beijing dispatched to carry home the survivors and the bodies of the victims of the attack, according to other accounts).

In the reported words of the officer (“who spoke with tears in his eyes”):

“Although some of our people sacrificed their lives, we gained no less than ten years in the development of our Stealth materials. We purchased this progress with our blood and international mortification.”


This is an interesting story.

In certain respects—the laser-guided part and the basement stash—it conflicts with more creditable reports.

The embassy’s sub-basement, which served as an all purpose cafeteria, recreation center, and bomb shelter—an unlikely hidey hole for F-117 parts--was hit once, possibly twice, and it seems unlikely that anything could have been recovered from there.

But conspiracy theorists can draw solace from Ambassador Pan’s description of the four cases of “important state materials” that two brave embassy workers ran up to the fifth floor of the burning embassy to extract. Pan stated:


“They knew these materials were more important than life.”

Standard-issue cypher equipment and secret files?

Special Elint monitoring equipment?

Or the crown jewels of America’s Stealth program?

I lean toward the third explanation, because glomming onto some secret airplane parts and then sneaking them out of a burning building is the kind of low tech triumph that fits in with my sense of China’s capabilities and interests inside Yugoslavia at the time.

The United States may have felt that by purchasing the wreckage, China had crossed the line from diplomatic support for Milosevic and conventional military-attache espionage to a more overt intelligence alliance with Yugoslavia in a deeply sensitive areas of U.S. military technology, and needed to be taught a lesson.

I also wish to explore a pyschological element, which perhaps affects China’s outlook to this day.

You can see hints of it in the F 117 in the basement story. It has a touching, almost child-like wish-fulfillment element: the evil empire destroyed our embassy but we escaped with the plans to the Death Star!

The embassy bombing was quite traumatic to China.

However, when the attack occured, triggering official and popular anger within China, the West was disbelieving, dismissive—and defensive.

It was considered rather churlish of the Chinese to intrude their crude and manufactured nationalistic outrage into our “good war” narrative of the Kosovo conflict by trying to make political capital out of our honest mistake.

And even if we were willing to entertain the possibility that the bombing was intentional, the “precision bombing” meme offered the comforting idea that we had simply given a misbehaving office in the embassy an admonitory plink.

In this context, it is interesting to point out an inaccuracy in both the Observer and Air Forces Monthly accounts.

From the Observer: “The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel.”

From AFM via Venik: Despite the fact that the embassy building was evacuated of all nonessential personnel during the hours of darkness to avoid any potential casualties, three Chinese were killed and more than 20 injured.

As both the casualty reports and Pan’s account makes clear, the embassy was filled with people at night, including members of the staff who were afraid to go home because their residences were too close to NATO bombing targets in Belgrade.

The strikingly similar nature of these inaccuracies indicate that they came not from on the scene reporting but from the correspondents’ military sources.

It could have been a situation in which bad intel ( “Mr. President, we‘ll bomb the place at night, nobody’ll be there but those damn spooks!”) morphed into behind the scenes spin (“Yeah, we did it but there was nobody in there but them spooks!”) and finally mutated into a public excuse for an operation that might otherwise be viewed as excessively reckless ("In a piece of high-tech derring-do, the U.S. staged a daring but successful assault targeting Chinese intelligence assets inside the otherwise empty building".)

I, for one, find it more likely we went in at night simply because we wanted to make sure that Ren Bokai’s meddling team was in the embassy, in its vulnerable fifth-floor office, and huddled over its equipment monitoring our bombing raids when we unleashed the attack.

In any case, both investigative reports erred on the side of credulity in minimizing the human cost of the attack—and the impact it might have on Chinese perceptions and policy.

Today, with further information on the attack and the benefit of perspective, it is difficult to dismiss the shock the Belgrade bombing inflicted on the Chinese.

Post 9/11, Ambassador Pan’s description of the attack is depressing familiar, and more difficult to disregard.

Pan’s plodding prose reawakens dark memories of our own as he conveys the shock and fear as the embassy explodes into flames, “the loudest sound I ever heard”. Survivors found the stairwells blocked by rubble and fire and desperately improvised escapes down the exterior of the building using knotted drapes. Pan saw his friends and colleagues stagger from the ruins of the embassy dazed and bloody, crying out for help.

Amid the chaos everybody ducked in fear of a follow-up attack as NATO bombers thundered overhead (May 7 was one of the busiest nights for aerial bombing). Then came the frantic ad hoc attempts to rally the survivors, account for the living, and search for the missing.

First responders were at first unable to enter the compound because the electric gate was disabled when the bombing cut the power; ambulances race up to the shattered structure with sirens howling to rush away the injured willy-nilly; embassy staffers mounted a frantic search through the local hospitals for the injured.

Finally, there was the extraction of the dead, consoling of the wounded;the grieving; and the defiant patriotic oration.

Again viewed through a post-9/11 lens, Pan’s account also paints a picture of a privileged elite that has been stripped of the illusion that it is immune to attack, and realizing with anger, shame, and disgust that at that moment it is helpless, vulnerable, and unable to retaliate.

Regardless of U.S. motives for bombing the Belgrade embassy or what treasures of military intelligence the Chinese were able to save from the wreckage, if anything was needed to focus Chinese attention on the dangers of the US GPS satellite network—and perhaps to alert the Chinese leadership to the shattering effectiveness of a sudden, unexpected strike--getting its embassy, intelligence directorate, and military attache blown up in Belgrade 6 years ago probably did it.

Perhaps the Belgrade bombing contributed in some way to the direction and intensity of Chinese response to America’s burgeoning satellite-based security infrastructure—and to the abrupt and seemingly reckless and cavalier character of China’s most recent riposte: the ASAT test of January 11th.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

China Goes Public on ASAT Test--Finally

China’s public silence concerning the ASAT test has been rather mystifying and embarrassing.

The first comment by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official on the matter that I could find came in an informal setting: a reception at which the opportunities for polite evasion and escape from dogged newshounds are greatly reduced.

Deutsche Presse apparently intercepted China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs portly spokesperson Liu Jianchao on his way to the dessert buffet at the China New Year’s reception for foreign correspondents in Beijing and elicited a rather abashed admission that MOFA knows nothing—nothing!—about any ASAT test.

As posted on a site called Monsters and Critics, the news report reads:

A foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, told reporters Friday at a New Year's reception that the ministry 'had not been informed' of the military action.
A high-level Chinese official said the Chinese 'had not participated in an arms race in outer space and would never' do so in future.

Another Chinese official confirmed to dpa that the foreign ministry had not been informed of the measure.

'We don't know what's going on,' he said.

I am also rather impressed that the DPA has the phone number of somebody at Xichang:

The test that destroyed the Fengyun-1C weather satellite, 850 kilometres distant, was carried out from a launching pad in Xichang in Sichuan province, a civil service official at the launch site told dpa by telephone, without giving any further reasons for the launch.

The official referred to China's central military command in Beijing, who he said was behind the launch.

Then, in his January 25 presser, Liu responded formally to several questions concerning the missile test. He brought very little to the discussion except the admission that China had informed the U.S. and Japan “soon after they conveyed their concern”, which one can take to mean “well after the test”; certainly not before the test, and apparently not immediately after.

It seems the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is way out of the loop on this one. They have no talking points, and no brief to rally China’s allies and sympathizers openly to support or excuse the Chinese test.

To me, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the PLA has turned into a satellite-zapping rogue. What I think it means is that the Chinese leadership wants to manage the ASAT issue secretly and bilaterally with the few powers that have a meaningful stake in the issue: the U.S., Russia, and Japan.

So the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/public diplomacy route simply wasn’t part of their calculations.

However, given the degree to which the ASAT test has become a public football—itself a signal that the Bush administration may have no interest in engaging on this issue—the MOFA may have a larger role in defending and selling China’s ASAT posture than was originally anticipated.

Below is the complete text of the ASAT-related questions and responses from the Jan. 25 press briefing.

Q: It is reported that China has informed the US Assistant Secretary Hill of its outer space test. Could you confirm? Why didn't China inform other countries before the test? Why did it take so long before China respond to other countries' concern after the test?

A: China has informed relevant parties, including the U.S., on the recent test in the outer space. I'd like to emphasize that China consistently advocates peaceful utilization of the outer space, and opposes to weaponization of arms race in the outer space. Neither has China has participated, nor will it participate in arms race of the outer space in any form.

Q: Doesn't China's outer space experiment contradict its principle of opposing weaponization of outer space? Why hadn't the Chinese government explained to foreign governments and media until long after the experiment?

A: China has nothing to conceal on this matter. Actually, China briefed the parties concerned on the outer space experiment soon after they expressed their concern. I emphasized just now that China's principled position of opposing weaponization and arms race of outer space remains unchanged. Meanwhile, I'd like to emphasize that this experiment is not targeted at any country, nor will it pose threat to any country.

Q:Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki said at today's press conference that China does not make full explanation to the test in outer space and Japan will demand further clarification from China. Will China conduct more test?

A: Actually we have informed Japan. I don't know what else information Japan needs. If Japan wants to have an exchange with China, we welcome it.
On the second question, I have not heard about the plan for another test.

Q: Is the Chinese government worried that it will trigger arms race in outer space?

A: The position of China to oppose weaponization and arms race in outer space has not changed. China will continue to promote de-weaponization and prevent arms race in outer space. We uphold peaceful use of outer space.

Q: What countries have been informed by China? Before or after the test? Will China attend the international conference to aid Lebanon? How much will China donate?

A: After the test, China has informed some countries including the US and Japan. It shows again China's responsible attitude on the issue.

Q: Today the Taiwan authorities expressed their concerns on the test in outer space by the mainland and said the mainland is seeking hegemony in outer space. What is your comment? China recently unveiled Jian-10 fighter jet. The Taiwan authorities made remarks on the military development of China. What is your response?

A: I don't want to link the test in outer space with Taiwan question.
You asked me about the development of fighter in China. I think it shall not worry the people who stick to one China principle and oppose Taiwan independence and the separation from the motherland.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A View from Inside the PLA on China's Anti-Satellite Test

Correction: Commenter "Nicholas Brady" registered on the 9link website and advised that the "recommended articles" linked to on the user's page are selected by the site, not the user. Therefore, the fact that "Future Warrior"'s post is linked to from General Peng's user page, that should not be construed as an endorsement by Peng of "Future Warrior"'s views. China Matters apologizes for the error and thanks "Nicholas Brady" for his clarification.

Though Chinese official media appears to be largely silent on the destruction of the FY-1c weather satellite, the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao did run a prominent story on the topic.

Most of it was recycled from western news services, but the final paragraph did say that the Global Daily (part of the People’s Daily media group) had a quote from Major General Peng Guangqian:

Peng indicated the report should be treated with skepticism. He also stated directly that America ‘seems a bit jumpy’ and that there were no grounds for such speculation concerning China’s activities in space. He said: ‘China already possesses the capability to send an astronaut into space and bring him back. With the possession of such capabilities for precisely operated and controlled aeronautical devices, from a technological perspective, destroying a satellite in space is the most ordinary technology. However, what should be especially emphasized is, historically China has advocated that space be demilitarized and has never conducted any space military activities to this day.’


General Peng is a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Science, and has a high media profile. He is frequently interviewed on Taiwan, Chinese military doctrine, and the modernization of Chinese forces.

He is perhaps one of the first people that the Chinese media turns to for quotemongering on military matters and I think his statement reflects more his desire to maintain his pundit status with a juicy but meaningless quote than an authoritative representation of government policy.

But he may have other ways of getting a message out.

Amazingly, General Peng has a webpage on a PLA version of MySpace called 9Link. You get to see his picture, read his profile and resume, even (if you're registered) click on a button to become his buddy.

He offers links to other posts on the site that interest him and two of them concern the ASAT test.

One of them is a CNN article in the original English with a brief Chinese summary.

The other, more interesting one, is a post by "Future Warrior", who describes himself as a soldier in Beijing. Judging from his enormous oeuvre of fire-eating posts, he may very well be a "future warrior" because he is spending a lot more time at the keyboard than he is drilling on the parade ground.

The post that interests us today, entitled The Significance of the Destruction of a Satellite by a Chinese Ballistic Missile, offers an utterly unvarnished Chinese military perspective on the background of the test.

It is a pretty clear indication that strategic concerns about militarization of space and (by extension, at least to me) the credibility of China's nuclear deterrent are driving this issue, and not the desire to do the dirty on Taiwan in the near future, as some reflexively alarmist pundits are claiming.

Future Warrior writes:

The most exciting event of 2007 so far has been China's successful destruction of an obsolete weather satellite in orbit 500 miles up with a ballistic missile.

As one might gather from the use of English units instead of kilometers, the author is probably drawing on published Western sources instead of internal Chinese information. But the editorializing is pure Chinese--and pure gold. the same time [the United States] had achieved absolute information supremacy on the global battlefield with the continual improvement of its global aerial positioning and sensing systems, it blatantly pursued global capabilities in precision attack.

What is interesting is that this overweening country [the USA] began to regard space as its own back yard. The national space policy it announced in 2006 nonchalantly regarded space as its private property. At the same time, when China at the United Nations proposed a special international organization to resolve the actual problems of a space arms race that were being faced, the United States, acting as a country far in the lead in space, vehemently opposed, saying that there was no arms race in space.

He concludes:

We hope that at the same time that this Chinese ballistic missile destroys that old satellite, it will smack the American carnivores back to reason. History shows us that if you don't hit Americans, they aren't willing to sit down at the negotiation table.

Presumably the good general knows that our spooks check his blog and click on his links. And, at least as far as the missile test is concerned, "Future Warrior" is there to say the words that General Peng might have in his heart but is too constrained by his position to utter.

For me, the most puzzling and interesting part of the story has been "the dog that didn't bark" or, in this case, the government spokesman that didn't spin.

I don't attach a lot of credence to the idea that some guy at Xichang got it into his head to bust up a satellite, and the Chinese government can't figure out what to say about it.

It looks to me that the Chinese are probably keeping mum on purpose, to see what kind of international reaction the test elicits and, especially, to note how President Bush does or does not respond to this pretty unambiguous shot across his bow.

As to what the Chinese really want, well, I think it's pretty clear.

Below is the original Chinese text of the excerpts of "Future Warrior"'s post that I translated above:






Thursday, January 18, 2007

China Wants a Piece of the Sky

Apparently the delicate sensors of the arms control fraternity picked up a frisson—a shudder of excitement—from the Forum on Space and Defense in Colorado Springs.

The rumor is that the Chinese government destroyed one of its own obsolete satellites, identified as FY-1C, in a test of an ASAT—anti-satellite weapon.

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk is not pleased:

If China has conducted an ASAT test, this is extremely bad. I had been hoping that the Bush Administration would push for a ban on anti-satellite testing, either in the form of a code of conduct. The Bush folks, however, have been fond of saying that wasn’t necessary, because “there is no arms race in space.”

Well, we have one now, instigated by an incredibly short-sighted Chinese government. (I suspect this test will have also created a massive debris problem).

The United States and other space-faring states should demarche the Chinese government for what is a stupid, clumsy and short-sighted decision.

Although this idiotic move by the Chinese government will demonstrate why we don’t want hit-to-kill ASAT testing in orbit—that will be a long-term recognition. In the short-term, the Chinese will simply not be credible partners in efforts to keep space peaceful. Moreover, other countries could follow suit with their own anti-satellite programs, including the United States.

This is a very disappointing day.

For deep, reasoned analysis of Chinese motives and priorities, we will apparently have to wait for the publication of Dr. Lewis’s forthcoming Minimum Means of Reprisal.

China Matters, on the other hand, will provide some non-specialist shoot-from-the-hip spitballing.

2006 has apparently been a very good year for the U.S. missile defense initiative, even if the over-the-top boo-yahing of Martin Sieff, UPI’s cheerleader-in-chief for missile defense systems and the people who love them, is discounted.

The Department of Defense has shed the Rumsfeldian incubus of reckless cost-cutting, and development and testing has been returned to the sober-sided, meticulous pocket protector crowd. As a result, the tests are actually working and the multi-billion dollar military-industrial gravy train will keep on rolling along.

Spurred by the North Korean missile contretemps, the neoconservative Abe government has put missile defense on the front burner. It’s talking about setting up a joint U.S. Japan ballistic defense facility in Nagasaki, as a counter to all-purpose bugbear Kim Jung Il and, in the future, China.

India is developing its own missile defense system and, in a development sure to warm Chinese hearts, is also working on an ICBM with " the potential range to hit any target in China”.

Conversely, it’s been a bad year for China and its rickety deterrent force of a couple dozen ICBMs.

It’s long been suspected by me, some guy at FAS, and the Chinese themselves that the mission of the burgeoning missile defense infrastructure in Alaska is probably not to stop a hail of ICBMs from Kim Jung Il’s grandson when the system reaches full capability mid-century.

Probably, the whole Missile Defense thing is an effort to knock down the (relatively) strongest leg of the shaky Chinese nuclear deterrent triad, its ICBMs.

And that means China is left without a credible riposte to U.S. use of tactical nuclear weapons to forestall an invasion of Taiwan.

Now, I suppose the Chinese could try to restore their ICBM deterrent by building a bunch of newer, better missiles, something the rest of the world would regard as destabilizing even if the Chinese themselves considered it restabilizing.

Or the Chinese could try to level the playing field by clearing the skies over China of the US satellites the missile defense system will rely on to get the whole early warning and response ball rolling.

I don’t think that the Chinese will start plunking US satellites as they pass overhead.

This test may be more in the nature of a calculated outrage—like the North Korean nuclear test—an attempt to reset the agenda and an announce that the status quo ante is no longer acceptable and China’s new pretensions and priorities as a world and space power must be accommodated.

Maybe the Chinese will even promote the idea of sovereign skies—that a country has the right to control what satellites cross its borders and compromise its security, no matter how high up—especially since the United States, keen to protect its perceived technological advantages, has scorned a treaty to keep missile defense systems out of space.

China, of course, has been acutely aware of America’s dominance in eye in the sky matters and is always looking for ways counter the US advantage—such as using Russian SAMs to shoot down the U2s we sent over China with Taiwanese pilots in the 1960s.

Maybe now they are setting their sights higher and, in a piece of spacewar kungfu, challenge us using our very own U.S. National Space Policy, authorized by President Bush on August 31, 2006, against us.

The policy is the usual piece of unilateral, militarized, pre-emptive chest thumping we’ve come to expect from the Bush administration, but in this case it may be a fatal bit of overreach.

Instead of strengthening the American position in space by placing our space interests beyond international interference, it could open the door for other powers to assert their right to order their corner of space as they see fit.

The money quotes:

The United States rejects any claims by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies...and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space;

The United States considers space systems to have the rights of passage through and operations in space without interference. Consistent with this principle, the United States will view purposeful interference with its space systems as an infringement on its rights;

The United States considers space capabilities...vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will reserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests;

The trouble is in the last paragraph. It goes well beyond “freedom of the cosmos”--a formulation pretty difficult to attack-- to a pretty bald unilateral assertion of U.S. space hegemony.

And it’s nakedly based on a narrow concept of U.S. national interest, rather than the status of World War II victor and guarantor of a new world order that gives us a spot on the U.N. Security Council, or benevolent nuclear elder and dispenser of goodies to the atomic have-nots that underlies our dominant role in the NPT.

Our privileges in space are as freshly minted, brash, suspect, and untested as the Bush administration that proclaimed them.

Just the thing to raise the hackles at Zhongnanhai, particularly as it sees China becoming enmeshed in a web of satellites, ships, subs, and missile defenses meant to eliminate its strategic deterrent.

Maybe now, with Bush at his weakest, is the time for China to challenge the President’s unilateral formulation and declare that “facts in the sky” demonstrate that China has the right and ability to protect itself from the satellite vanguards of the U.S. ballistic missile defense.

Beijing may abandon hopes of any multilateral treaty to demilitarize space.

Instead, broad-spectrum pursuit of its own security—including ASAT defenses and the assertion of the right to deploy and use them--and bilateral negotiations from a position of increased strength would form the core of a new Chinese space doctrine.

It will be interesting to see what fall-out—physically, militarily, and diplomatically--the destruction of FY-1C will bring.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Coolie Quagmire: Flogging, Sodomy, and Imperial Overreach on the Rand

The turn of the 20th century was a heady time to be a lord of international finance and industry, as Herbert Hoover was.

Developments in finance, technology, organization, and transportation meant that millions of dollars, mountains of resources, and thousands of men could be set in motion across the face of the earth in the service of an idea.

Even a bad idea.

Like the program that exported 50,000 coolie laborers, most of them under the aegis of the China Engineering and Mining Corporation--which, with Herbert Hoover’s connivance, had previously wrested the immense Kaiping colliery from imperial Chinese control-- to South Africa in beginning in 1904.

The basic concept was simple enough: to put a cap on the wage demands of local mine workers by importing low-cost labor from abroad.

The South African gold mines had traditionally relied on local manual labor.

However, the Boer War had apparently broadened the horizons and raised the expectations of the black laborers, who had been employed extensively in logistical functions supporting the British forces.

The profoundly hostile and unfortunately less than reliable Hoover biographer, John Hamill, quotes from the correspondence of a director of a mining company with one of his managers who had experimented with white labor for surface work:

...the feeling [of the board-ed.] seems to be one of fear that if a large number of white men are employed on the Rand in the position of labourers, the same troubles will arise as are now prevalent in the Australian Colonies, i.e., that the combination of the labouring classes will become so strong as to be able to more or less dictate not only on questions of wages, but also on political questions by the power of votes when a Representative Government is established. (John Hamill, The Strange Career of Mr. Hoover under Two Flags, New York, William Faro, Inc. 1931, hereinafter Hamill, pg. 152)

A solution was found—in China.

In 1906, an observer wrote:

It is now well understood in England that it was part of the policy of the mineowners depress Kafir wages by the introduction of Chinese labor when the war should come to an end...From my own investigations...I know that [in 1902] the labor agency of the Chamber of Mines was making only half-hearted efforts to get a full complement of “boys” for the mines...( Edward Porritt, Party Conditions in England, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2. (Jun., 1906), hereinafter Porritt, pg. 217).

Importing Chinese labor into South Africa’s volatile, multi-racial society, in which Great Britain was seeking to institutionalize its dominance over the recently-defeated Boers and the black population, presented significant risks and challenges.

In a fascinating sidebar, a fact-finding mission was dispatched to California to try to learn from and avoid the mistakes and conflicts that had bedeviled U.S. exploitation of Oriental labor.

In their article Atlantic and Pacific Crossings: Race, Empire, and the Labor Problem in the Late Nineteenth Century, Matthew Guterl and Christine Skwiot (Radical History Review, Issue 91, Winter 2005) look at the anxieties and attitudes that drove the global search for cheap labor:

Thus the Johannesburg Chamber of Mines sent H. Ross Skinner and Herbert Noyes to the Bear Flag State to learn where crucial mistakes had been made and to develop policy alternatives that would stave off those same problems in the Transvaal. California had suffered, their 1903 report concluded, from an “absence of restrictive legislation.” by which they meant control over the inflow of immigrants and their movements once inside. California—and by extension the entire United States—had erred not just in allowing the Chinese to compete with white workers as settlers, or even just temporary visitors, but also in allowing them to ever leave the site of their labors.

A great deal of ingenuity was expended in order to make the program a state-of-the-art exercise in wage busting.

First, as we have seen, the labor force would have to be non-white, so it would be bereft of the legal rights and expectations that had roiled the Australian gold fields when Italian laborers had been introduced.

Secondly, the privileges, responsibilities, and opportunities of the labor force would be defined strictly and completely by the terms of its labor contract with the mine owners.

Workers would be indentured: brought to South Africa for three year contracts, housed in work camps, and forbidden to reside locally or work in other occupations, or even leave the camps without prior written permission.

Third, the expense of importing and housing workers brought from afar would be mitigated by scientific management. The workers would bring no distracting and expensive family members with them and would be housed in efficient, high density residential facilities whose resemblance to a sinister technological innovation of the Boer War—the concentration camp--was perhaps not coincidental.

Again, from Hamill:

...these young men...would be herded in compounds not half an acre in size, two thousand men to a compound, where there was hardly standing room for them, these compounds being enclosed by the huts where the Chinese were to live, twenty in a hut, twenty seven feet by nineteen and a half and twelve feet high, sleeping on wooden shelves, two men to a shelf. (Hamill, pg. 159)

The final measure—indeed the raison d’etre for the whole operation—was to optimize the mine owner’s contractual, legal, and coercive advantages and pay low wages.

Really, really low wages, according to Hamill:

They were to work ten hours a day on two meals a day and for a minimum wage of twenty-five cents a day to be paid after thirty days work... twenty-give cents in the Transvaal was not worth more than five cents in China, nor that it would take a month’s wages to buy a new suit of jeans. (Hamill, pp. 157-8)

The scheme required an enabling Ordinance to become operative, and the usual suspects were pressed into action to obtain the approval of key politicians and sell the idea to the public.

Hamill waxes indignant:

Meetings were held all over the country, addressed by officials, some of whom had been bribed and others subjected to political pressure, with the object of showing that there was not a sufficient supply of Kaffir labor and that the importation of the Chinese was necessary for the salvation of the mining industry.

This was denied by Sir Godfrey Lagdon, the Commissioner for Native Affairs, by Mr. W. Wybergh, the Commissioner for Mines, and by the South African Press. At this, the mine owners became “tough.” Lawley [High Commissioner for the Transvaal-ed] dismissed Mr. Wybergh, Mr. Monypenny, the editor of the Johannesburg Star, was forced to resign and the whole staff of the Johannesburg Leader was fired. The other newspapers had to fall inline. Employees were forced to sign petitions stating that calamity would befall if the Chinese did not come. Clergymen...were purchased. The Chinaman was needed to save the Transvaal!

...The propaganda campaign was carried on even more extensively in England, many of the leading newspapers and even several pious bishops referring to the necessity of saving the Transvaal by means of the Chinaman...

...Meanwhile, Joe Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary...put through a deal with the mine owners, whereby he offered the Government support to the scheme for introducing the Chinamen in consideration of the mine owners subscribing $150,000,000 in three yearly installments towards a loan for the reconstruction of the Transvaal.
(Hamill, pp. 154-5)

The first shipment of almost 2000 coolies, organized by Hoover’s Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation, arrived in Durban from Qinhuangdao in July 1904. By 1906, the total number of Chinese coolies had swelled to 50,000, almost entirely recruited and shipped by CEMC.

The program quickly degenerated into a fiasco and public relations nightmare.

The Chinese workers were not docile, productive drones.

Instead, they were a major industrial and administrative headache, as documented in Peter Richardson’s study of one of the largest of the labor upheavals, Coolies and Randlords: the North Randfontein Chinese miners’ ‘strike’ of 1905 (Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 2 No. 2, Apr. 1976).

Though there were attempts to attribute their dissatisfaction to the fact that the many workers had been recruited from Boxer strongholds in the north and were therefore militantly hostile to westerners, the truth apparently lies in the fact that the conditions of their work were appalling.

The Chinese labored under the most grueling conditions: the underground work, whose rigors they could not have imagined when they signed their articles of indenture in China. They worked ten backbreaking hours per day, often in an atmosphere of “perpetual rainfall” in the dripping mines, then climbing ladders up 1000 feet to the surface at the end of their shifts.

Conditions were exacerbated by a concerted push by the mineowners and the government to reduce the cost of Chinese labor further in order to successfully exploit poor and marginal ore reserves.

They actively colluded in finding new ways to reduce wages by manipulating and reinterpreting the work rules, culminating in a successful effort to impose an onerous piecework system (superseding the munificent 25 cents per day daily rate guaranteed in the indenture contract for only the first six months) on the Chinese laborers for the 30 month balance of their three-year contracts.

Conditions topside were, in some ways, worse.

The camps were abysmal pens. They were under the control of the Chinese mine police, recruited largely from British units at Weihaiwei, who were often given the run of the camps by administrators unversed in Chinese language and customs and totally at a loss as to how to handle the work force.

The Chinese mine police, also indentured, were despised by the laborers and mistrusted by the owners. They dealt opium, demanded sexual services of workers on occasion, ran gambling operations, reportedly forced laborers to gamble, then lent money out at 50% per month interest to the unfortunate losers, collected on debts with fearsome brutality, and were considered responsible for provoking the majority of defections from the mining camps by debtors desperate to escape their unpayable obligations.

An idea of the happy, productive atmosphere at the camps can be given by this description of a savage attack on the Chinese mine police by a group of indebted coolies:

Chinese Coolies raided the rooms of the Chinese Police, assaulted the occupants, and robbed them of about English Pounds 324...The assailants were armed with hammers, hatchets, pick hafts, etc. and their attack was so severe that some of the Police Boys were rendered unconscious... (quoted in Gary Kynoch. ‘Your Petitioners are in Mortal Terror’: The Violent World of Chinese Mineworkers in South Africa, 1904–1910, Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 31, Number 3, September 2005, hereinafter Kynoch)

Parenthetically, English Pounds 324 is pretty impressive bankroll when one considers the rock bottom wages that the miners (and presumably the police as well) were paid.

Ironically, the same oppressive social and legal controls meant that a Chinese worker convicted in a civilian court of offenses was liable to deportation—a dead loss for the employer. The hapless mine owners resorted to the crudest form of incentive and intimidation—flogging—in a futile attempt to inculcate obedience and productivity into the Chinese workforce.

Flogging administered by the mineowners, and not by the civil authorities after due process, was supposed to be illegal. However, the abuse was widespread.

World Corporate Punishment Research reproduces some remarks made in Parliament in 1905 concerning illegal flogging of Chinese coolies.

Lord Coleridge quoted from an eyewitness account recorded in that perfidious organ of South African bleeding heart liberal defeatism, the Licensed Victuallers' Gazette:

Let us take one typical morning's work. Twenty coolies are lined up outside the compound manager's office. They are marched in one by one by Chinese policemen and charged. The charge may be anything -- from malingering to opium-smoking, or failing to report after a shift. The sentence usually varies from five to fifty strokes. These are administered variously. On one compound that I visited the punishment is carried out most expeditiously. 'Ten,' says the compound manager, speaking in Chinese, and the unhappy coolie walks to another part of the same room between two or three Chinese policemen to take his gruel. The coolie lowers his pantaloons, falls flat on the boards (face downwards) and 'prepares to receive the enemy.' One policeman keeps his head in position, another his feet. The Lord High Executioner armed with a whip -- a piece of leather three inches wide attached to a wooden handle about three feet long -- then metes out the punishment. After the second stroke the coolie will probably groan and wail, but immediately after the last he is brought to his feet, and with a coup de derriere from a policeman's No. 9 boot he is sent about his business.

The correspondent also noted:

In one compound that I visited there were, say, 2,500 coolies, of whom 60 per cent have had a 'licking' since their arrival.

In a final embarrassment, a few Chinese escaped from the camps and scratched out a miserable existence thieving in the countryside. This gave rise to terrifying reports of marauding gangs of Chinese bandits and demands from the recently subjugated and disarmed Boer population that it be permitted to rearm to protect itself from the yellow horde.

The reality was apparently not that of bold Chinese brigands sweeping from the hills in wuxia fashion.

Kynoch quotes from a local newspaper of 1905:

...hiding in dongas by day, slinking across the farms by night, dodging South African constabulary patrols, chivied by Boer farmers, chased by kaffirs, stealing fowls, robbing lonely homesteads, barefooted, half-starved, desperate, with an Asiatic contempt of life in their blood, and Chinese cruelty and callousness in their hearts. No one can understand them, they understand no one.

A certain contempt of life and cruelty and callousness is palpable in this passage, but for some reason I’m unable to ascribe it to the Chinese.

Anyway, the final score for the war between these miserable hobos and the Transvaal was four farmers killed, 17 Chinese shot during “outrages” (in which the justification for deadly force was not closely examined) and a few more executed after capture.

We can only conjecture how long this state of affairs might have persisted and what increasingly desperate measures might have been employed by the mineowners if political factors in England had not brought the dismal experiment to an end.

The Transvaal coolie question became a political football in the 1906 British parliamentary elections. This was the same time as the Belgian Congo horrors were roiling the conscience of the world and the Liberal Party, and the abuses in the Transvaal camps attracted a great deal of unfavorable attention:

It was not necessary for the Liberal candidates at the general election to say much against the Chinese ordinance. The billstickers did the effective work on this question; and when they had covered all the barns in the rural constituencies with pictures of Chinamen in the Rand compounds, it was useless for Tory candidates to assert that there was nothing approaching slavery in the three years’ indenture, the felon-like transportation from the steamer at Durban to Johannesburg, the floggings at the order of the compound superintendents, or the Andersonville structures on the mine reservations. (Porritt)

Regrettably, Liberal disgust was not limited to humanitarian concerns.

The coolie issue was also framed as a racial one: the contamination of the Anglo-Saxon colonial venture by the introduction of morally degraded Asiatics into the heroic white guy-bossing-around-childlike-local-coloureds mix.

The result was a morbid obsession with the varieties of dangerous depravity and deviance that the Celestials were introducing to the innocent Rand.

In addition to revelations of widespread gambling and opium abuse and occasional crimes against local whites, the ick factor was intensified by a remarkable investigation into the sexual habits of the Chinese coolies.

The coolies had availed themselves of the sexual release available to lonely men since the beginning of time and apparently a great deal of effort was devoted to an attempt to document the existence of “catamite coolies”, louche individuals who disdained the toil in the mines for a career of paid, aberrant indolence in the camps servicing the miserable laborers.

Ross Forman, a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London with a weakness for the abysmal pun, provides an eye-opening look at imperial obsessions and anxieties concerning the sexual transgressions of the competing and subject races at the turn of the 20th century in his Randy on the Rand: Portuguese African Labor and the Discourse on "Unnatural Vice" in the Transvaal in the Early Twentieth Century, in the 2002 Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.4 (2002):

[In] 1906 "Report of an Enquiry Held by Mr. J. A. S. Bucknill into Certain Allegations as to the Prevalence of Unnatural Vice and Other Immorality amongst the Chinese Indentured Labourers Employed on the Mines of the Witwatersrand," ... investigated allegations of same-sex practices among Chinese coolies imported on fixed indentures to supply labor to the mines. 50 Bucknill's inquiry was leaked to the public by a member of Parliament and generated enormous publicity about "catamite coolies" because it served as a focal point for anti-Chinese agitation and a powerful tool for those in both Britain and South Africa who wished to have the Chinese repatriated.

The coolie question was an important contributing factor in the Tories’ resounding defeat in the general election of 1906.

By 1910 the experiment was at an end and the coolies were repatriated, though not before a Hail Mary effort by the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation to sell this disreputable and discredited workforce to Kaiser Wilhelm for service in Southeast Africa.

And what of our friend Herbert Hoover?

He was not an enthusiastic proponent of the coolie scheme.

Hoover was extremely negative on Chinese labor, despite the striking success of Chinese coolies in the railroad and mining sectors in his adopted home state of California.

I leave the question of whether Hoover was a racist (believing that racial discrimination should be condoned and legally protected) or merely a racialist (believing that qualitative differences between races exist but the white man didn’t need any extra help to come out on top) to the philosophers.

Nevertheless, the passage of time has not confirmed the acuity of Hoover’s analysis or vindicated his perspective on Chinese labor and economics.

After World War II he wrote:

There is at least a further partial illusion in the concept that with such masses of cheap labor, China can be converted into a great industrial country from which there can be a lift in the standard of living and a violent competition in the sale of products to the Western world.

The first handicap is the lack of great supplies of mineral raw material, except for coal.

The second lies in some kink in the Chinese mind which does not adapt itself well to Western methods of administrative organization, whether political or industrial...A third handicap to widespread Occidental industrialization is the fact that the Chinese are a less mechanical-minded people than the European-descended races...Our general conclusion from the Tongshan experience with 25,000 healthy men in all positions was that it took about two Chinese to perform the common labor tasks of an American, about four to one to operate the machines, and about ten to one skilled in mechanical trades to assemble intricate machines..
.(Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: Years of Adventure, 1874-1920, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1951 pp 69-72).

One might speculate that Hoover smarted from the comeuppance he received at the hands of the Chinese in the British courts over his seizure of the Kaiping mines, and bitterly remembered Chinese resistance to his attempts to seize control of day-to-day administration of the colliery by streamlining operations and replacing Chinese managers with his loyal cronies.

In any case, he was quick to poormouth the Chinese labourers he saw in the Transvaal during one of his visits, as Hoover’s biographer, George Nash, records:

Hoover argued against the use of Chinese manpower for practical business reasons: skilled white labour could do the job better, as his experience in Western Australia had demonstrated. When a journalist asked him to comment on a contingent of Chinese workers he had just seen, Hoover replied crisply, “A very poor lot, indeed, and certainly not worth the trouble and expense of bringing out.” (George H. Nash The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer 1874-1914, New York, W.W. Norton & Company New York 1983, pp 346-7)

Hoover and his firm, Bewick, Moreing were opposed to the importation of Chinese labor into the Transvaal.

However, it may be reaching a bit too far to draw the conclusion, as Nash does, that Hoover would therefore not have been involved in nor condoned the transaction by which Chinese Mechanical and Engineering Corporation (of which he was still a director) contracted for up to 200,000 laborers to be shipped to South Africa.

Hoover’s philosophy of life was Caveat Sucker, and he had a profound and well-documented contempt and predatory appetite for passive investors and me-too opportunists who tried to ride the gravy train that Hoover and the other masterly insiders assembled from the raw material of ores, finance, lives, and laws that attracted their energy, intelligence, greed, and ruthless ambition.

Hamill claims that China Mining and Engineering Corp. profited both by contracting for supply of the indentured laborers ($10/head) and providing the transportation services that ferried tens of thousands of Chinese coolies from Qinhuangdao to the Transvaal ($25/head). He concludes: was not such a bad business. There was a profit for the company of about twenty-five dollars a head.” (Hamill, pp. 166-7)

Hamill’s facts and figures are always open to question.

However, if China Engineering and Mining Corporation cleared a profit of over US$1 million at the expense of the deluded mineowners on the 50,000 coolies it shipped to the Transvaal, it may have had the best of the disastrous transaction—a state of affairs that Hoover would have happily endorsed.

Historical analogies are always risky.

However, I see parallels between the effort to “shock and awe” Chinese coolies into a docile, 25-cents-per day workforce in 1904 South Africa and current efforts to remake certain regions of the world through fear and force.

In both cases, the experts with the most recent advances in technology and management at their fingertips, and the powers of state, finance, and law behind them, believed the advantages they enjoyed might well be detested, but would be accepted as inevitable and unavoidable by the people they sought to subjugate.

The Chinese coolies were meant to be enmeshed in a system so powerful and omnipresent that they would realize they had no alternative but to submit, labor earnestly for their pittance, and yearn passively for the day a new shipment of unfortunates would arrive and they could return home.

Instead, they reacted contrary to their immediate individual interests and in defiance of the system’s fundamental assumptions and expectations.

This scientific system for the efficient global movement of labor assets somehow created a quagmire of inefficiency, violence, buggery, and embarrassment.

The Chinese resisted, often in self-defeating ways that the mineowners had not foreseen. They loafed, malingered, gambled, and abused drugs; they engaged in self-mutilation and suicide; they protested, worked-to-rule, rioted, struck, escaped, and stole.

Since the coolie system was purpose-built to eliminate personal and economic freedom, it was spectacularly ill-equipped to offer these freedoms when they proved necessary to placate and incentivize a disillusioned workforce.

One contemporary analyst wrote:

...the experiment was a disastrous failure...The failure was undoubtedly emphasised by the blunders which had been made. The labourers were placed under the control of persons who did not in the least understand them and who could not speak their language sufficiently well to be properly understood. The employers resented the interference of the Government and refused to co-operate in the administration of justice. The coolies were demoralized by gross mismanagement of every kind. The real cause of failure, however, lay deeper...For him (the Chinese labourer) there was no opportunity for promotion...( Harold Wright, Review of a pamphlet by George Payne An Experiment in Alien Labor published by University of Chicago Press, The Economic Journal, Vol. 22, No. 86. (Jun., 1912), pp. 268-270, )

The coolie system appeared flawed at its heart, and efforts to apply it more perfectly and energetically seemed only to magnify its deficiencies.

Perversely, exhaustively planned and vigorously executed measures meant to compel submission succeeded only in provoking resistance.

That’s something we might remember as we pursue the deadly mirage of our omnipotence and omniscience in the deserts of the Middle East.