Posted on May 7, 2019
Within hours of the bombing, two competing narratives began to emerge. They would harden over the coming months and form the basis of how the incident – which continues to linger over the US-China relationship – remains debated today.
The bombing fuelled speculation, and there was no shortage of unanswered questions and missing pieces that were put together by some to imply a grand conspiracy. Intrigue continued to hang over the incident and, months afterwards, two respected European newspapers suggested the strikes were by design.
But, as former Nato officials point out, in 20 years no clear evidence has come to light proving what almost all of China believes and America strenuously denies: that it was deliberate.
In those first hours after the bombs fell, the US and Nato wasted no time to announce that it was an accident. China’s representative at the UN, meanwhile, denounced a “crime of war” and a “barbarian act”.
In Brussels, Jamie Shea – the British Nato spokesman who became the public face of the war – was woken up in the middle of the night and told he would have to face the world’s press in the morning. The information available in those early hours was thin but he would give one of the first explanations of what had happened, along with an apology. The warplanes, he said from the briefing podium, had “struck the wrong building”.
“It’s like a train accident or a car crash – you know what has happened but what you don’t know is why it has happened,” he says 20 years later. “That took a lot longer to establish… But it was clear right from the get-go, that targeting a foreign embassy was not part of the Nato plan.”