China Hints At Desire To End Standoff With US : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thursday, April 5 5:46 AM SGT

WRAP: China Hints At Desire To End Standoff With US

BEIJING (AP)--As China pressed its demand that the U.S. apologize for a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet, China's foreign minister said Wednesday that Beijing wants a dignified resolution "as soon as possible." President Jiang Zemin called for an apology, as did Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in a meeting with the U.S. ambassador. U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, sought a second chance to see crew of the Navy EP-3E, which made an emergency landing on a Chinese island after the collision.

The White House ruled out any apology, and President George W. Bush has said China must return the plane and its crew or else relations could be damaged.

But in an apparent attempt to soothe Chinese feelings, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed regret Wednesday over the loss of the Chinese pilot, who parachuted out of his fighter over the South China Sea and was presumed dead.

"We regret the loss of life of that Chinese pilot, but now we need to move on," Powell told reporters in Washington. "We need to bring this to a resolution and we're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations."

Powell's statement came after Tang - after reiterating the demand for an apology - gave the first sign of Chinese desire to end the mounting tension in his meeting with Ambassador Joseph Prueher.

Beijing "pays attention to China-U.S. relations and hopes to see the collision incident resolved appropriately as soon as possible," Tang said, according to state media. He added that China wanted to protect its "sovereignty and dignity," but did not elaborate.

Earlier, Jiang demanded an apology, adding that the U.S. should "do something favorable" to smooth China-U.S. ties, state media reported.

He then left on a six-nation trip to Latin America. He arrives Thursday in Chile, with stops later in Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil. A former U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Winston Lord, said Jiang's departure wasn't a sign that he didn't take the standoff seriously. Canceling the trip "would have made it an incredible crisis," Lord said, and Jiang can still handle the situation from abroad.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that the crew indicated they destroyed at least some of the intelligence-gathering equipment and data aboard the plane before it landed. Earlier, U.S. military officials said they believe Chinese officials boarded the plane and examined its equipment despite U.S. objections.

U.S. diplomats on Hainan said they received no response to requests Wednesday to see the crew again or to meet with Chinese officials. At least six U.S. officials are on the island, including the military attache from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Diplomats saw the 21 men and three women of the crew late Tuesday for the first time since the emergency landing Sunday on Hainan Island. The diplomats later visited local stores to buy underwear, soap and other supplies for the crew, though they didn't know when they would be allowed to deliver them.

The U.S. military says the EP-3E was flying in international airspace when it collided with one of two Chinese F-8 fighters sent to track it. Such U.S. flights are meant to gather information on China's military by recording radio, radar and other signals.

China says the U.S. plane hit the Chinese jet about 60 miles south of Hainan, causing it to crash. Xinhua said a search for the missing pilot, identified as Wang Wei, was stepped up Wednesday, with 48 planes and 29 ships scanning the sea.

At the United Nations, the deputy Chinese ambassador said Beijing didn't "want to prolong this matter." He said a U.S. apology wasn't a precondition for starting talks on the incident.

"But this is what they should do. I think they should do something about an apology and an explanation of all kinds of things," said Shen Guofang, China's deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there would be no U.S. apology.

"The United States government doesn't understand the reason for an apology," he said. "Our airplane was operating in international airspace and (the crew) did nothing wrong."

Chinese state media were increasingly critical Wednesday of the U.S., in contrast to the first days after the collision, when published reports seemed restrained.

Xinhua said Wang's wife, Yuan Guoqin, expressed outrage at the U.S. plane's "hegemonist acts." It said she lay on a bed with tears streaming down her face during an interview.

"Until now, the American government has been indifferent to my husband's life," Yuan was quoted as saying. The couple have a 6-year-old son.

Pictures of the EP-3E in state newspapers showed damage to its leftmost propeller and the underside of its left wing. The plane's nose cone was missing.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 04, 2001


Thursday, April 05

China, U.S. back from the edge

By PAUL KORING From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Washington Beijing and Washington edged away from a diplomatic crisis Wednesday with a senior Chinese official admitting that Sunday's mid-air collision occurred in international air space and U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell voicing "regret" over the death of a Chinese fighter pilot.

While both governments remained at odds over Beijing's demand for a U.S. apology over the incident, it was also clear that both were seeking to prevent the diplomatic fallout from spinning out of control.

"We regret the loss of life of that Chinese pilot," said Mr. Powell, in a clear effort to placate China's ruffled diplomatic feathers while avoiding a direct apology, which would imply Washington was accepting blame for the mid-air collision. ". . . We're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations."

That conciliatory tone was at least partially echoed in Beijing, where Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said China "hopes to see the collision incident resolved appropriately as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, the 24 U.S. aviators remained detained and incommunicado on the island of Hainan, where they landed their crippled plane Sunday.

Political pressure has rapidly mounted for President George W. Bush, facing the most serious foreign-policy problem of his young administration, to quickly win their freedom. Wednesday, yellow ribbons festooned lamp posts at military bases and news channels provided near-constant coverage of the incident.

But there was a clear effort to lower the rhetorical heat, as officials on both sides stressed the need for explanations and a rapid, mutually acceptable solution.

"We are saying that we think we need to understand the situation, we need to be able to exchange explanations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "And as the fate of the Chinese pilot becomes clearer, we're saying probably more clearly that we understand and sympathize with the plight of the Chinese family and regret the loss of the life of the Chinese pilot."

Chinese ambassador to Washington Yang Jiechi avowed that "good relations are in our common interest," while maintaining that Washington owes Beijing an apology. "It was our airplane that was lost and our man who is missing," he said.

But the ambassador also explicitly acknowledged that the mid-air collision occurred outside of China's territorial airspace.

Although the incident was far from resolved, focus shifted to the return of the 24 detained aviators and the fate of the Chinese pilot, with the U.S. plane and its sophisticated surveillance equipment becoming almost an afterthought.

"First and foremost, what we're looking for is the release of our crew and access to our crew, because those are the people that matter to us most," Mr. Boucher said.

China released pictures Wednesday of Wang Wei, the pilot of the Chinese F-8 fighter that crashed after Sunday morning's collision. The pilot apparently parachuted out of his crippled jet, which made contact with the outboard propeller on the left wing of the lumbering U.S. turboprop EP-3.

U.S. defence officials seemed confident that the crew completed the emergency-destruct routine before landing wrecking equipment, erasing data and turning software into digital gibberish during their 18-minute emergency descent.

Some analysts suggested that both governments talked tough early in the week to play to conservative elements, while trying to avoid a serious setback in relations still under repair two years after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo air war.

"I have a feeling that there will not be lingering damage," said Ivan Eland, director of defence-policy studies at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington. "Both leaders are getting pressure from hard- liners," he said, adding that he expects the return of the crew could probably be achieved "in a week or so."

Others expressed concern that an extended trip by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Latin America, beginning Wednesday, could delay any early resolution.

Another issue could complicate the return of the U.S. crew: the formal arrest this week of Gao Zhan, a U.S.-based political scientist whose seven-week detention in Beijing has caused a diplomatic uproar in Washington.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer described Ms. Gao's situation Wednesday as "an ongoing, separate matter" not linked to the dispute over the U.S. plane.

But New York-based group Human Rights in China said Wednesday that the formal arrest is "directly tied to the escalating tensions between the United States and China."

With a report from Associated Press 5/wchinaapology?tf=RT/fullstory.html&cf=RT/config- neutral&slug=wchinaapology&date=20010405&archive=RTGAM&site=Front

-- Martin Thompson (, April 05, 2001.

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