Beijing Manipulates Narrative of Tragic US Drone Strike to Cover Up China’s Abuses

December 21, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021


Beijing has called a U.S. drone strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan an “atrocity,” but this is a manipulative and hypocritical tactic that ignores far worse atrocities like the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The Chinese communists are expert manipulators with their words and the way they interact on the international stage. The most recent example concerns American military action in Afghanistan that killed nearly a dozen civilians. During a press briefing on Dec. 14, Beijing called the incident an “atrocity,” where American officials “exonerate[d] the perpetrators” and attacked in the name of human rights and democracy. But this, as usual, is a manipulation of facts and Western guilt to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) agenda.

The action to which they are referring was a drone strike on Aug. 29, during the chaotic final days of the U.S. troops’ pullout from Afghanistan. American forces were struck by a suicide bomber outside of the Kabul airport and President Joe Biden, eager to promote the “over the horizon” counter-terrorist capability, launched a drone strike on a suspected terrorist. Upon investigation, it turned out that the attack didn’t hit terrorists, but instead killed 10 civilians, including seven children. It is in the news again because after a careful review, U.S. officials announced no punishment for those involved in the strike. This is a tragic situation, but not necessarily criminal.

The tragedy makes a good bumper sticker for the CCP to condemn American behavior, but it doesn’t reflect the rules of warfare, American conduct in the War on Terror, and the rules of just warfare. And the event still pales in comparison to far more egregious actions committed by the CCP. Beijing’s statement reflects the CCP’s attempt to turn tragedy into its advantage by stoking American guilt and providing cover for the regime’s abuses.

The U.S. military fights with stringent conditions on which targets to strike, and with the utmost care to prevent civilian deaths. This matters during wartime. Deliberately targeting civilians, instead of a military target, would be a crime. Accidently killing them during the chaos of war with limited information, while pursuing a military target using approved military means, makes those civilian deaths tragic but not a crime.

The deaths are blamed on the United States and used by the CCP to attack America and shield the regime’s misbehavior (and may score points with the Non-Aligned Movement). But ISIS terrorists put those people in harm by deliberately hiding among civilians and trying to shield bases by using human shields. And it is the terrorists that blur the line between civilian and military targets, and they are the ones who should be blamed for the loss of civilian life.

Even if they didn’t blur those lines, there are well-established principles of double effect (collateral damage). According to famed just war theorist Michael Walzer, these principles include the following: if the action is a legitimate act of war; the direct effect (the target) is morally acceptable; the intention was good; and the effect is efficacious enough to offset the negative consequences. Even though the result of the Aug. 29 strike turned out to be civilians killed based upon faulty intelligence, that was only known after the fact, which still makes the strike just (from a military standpoint) while still horribly tragic.

Yet, ISIS terrorists and the Chinese regime take advantage of our natural humanitarian impulses to avoid civilian loss, and takes that loss to condemn the United States. It is much easier to call it an atrocity, which is an emotionally charged word, than to explain the rules of war that sometimes result in tragic life. Beijing does this knowing it will provoke international outrage and makes it tougher to use force when needed.

For perspective and contrast, the Chinese regime has made far worse decisions. One of the most egregious was the decision of the CCP to order the military to break up pro-democracy rallies in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. The military opened fire on protesters, killing thousands. The actual death count during the brutal suppression, though kept as a top secret by the CCP, was at least 10,000, according to a secret UK diplomatic report.

Epoch Times Photo
A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace during the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 5, 1989. (Jeff Widener/AP Photo)

Moreover, the United States publicly shares information about its strikes and has a robust reporting and investigation mechanism to determine war crimes. There are multiple people viewing live feeds from helicopters and drones in the area, including JAG (Judge Advocate General) lawyers. Any of these individuals can initiate a review to determine if war crimes were committed, which goes up multiple chain of commands.

While potential massacres receive attention in mainstream media, in contrast, the Tiananmen Square massacre is shrouded in mystery, and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong have to play a cat and mouse game with officials to publicly remember the event without being arrested.

And don’t forget the genocide against the Uyghur minorities in China’s Xinjiang region, where around one million are detained. The Uyghurs are used as forced labor, subjected to torture, and their women are raped and sterilized. Yet, Beijing wants to score points against the United States over a drone strike in the war against terrorists.

In short, the CCP hypocritically attacks the United States for a tragic—but not criminal—action. U.S. officials and the American public can’t let the abhorrent Chinese regime play this game, and must have the understanding to recognize the difference between a tragedy and an actual atrocity.

Clearly, the deaths of innocent lives are tragic—but so is war and terrorism that requires the use of force in the first place. Beijing has used this tragedy to condemn the United States and put it on the defensive, while ignoring much more serious CCP misbehavior like the human rights abuses.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Morgan Deane
Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.