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Apr 7, 2001 - 06:18 PM China's Military Demands Hard Line Against Washington By Joe McDonald Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) - China's politically powerful military stepped up pressure Saturday for Beijing to take a hard line against Washington in a standoff over a U.S. spy plane. Diplomats said the plane's detained crew were in "high spirits" after receiving e-mails from their families. Defense Minister Gen. Chi Haotian said the People's Liberation Army won't let Washington "shirk responsibility," dampening hopes for an early release of the 24 U.S. crew members. The crew has been held on southern Hainan island, where they made an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet.

Chi's stern tone was in contrast to assurances by diplomats and civilian leaders that Beijing sought an early settlement and didn't want the dispute hurt U.S.-Chinese relations. It also added to suspicions that military and security forces - the most hawkish segment of the government - were obstructing a settlement.

American diplomats on Hainan island were allowed early Sunday to meet for an hour with the 21 men and three women from the U.S. Navy EP-3E. Diplomats saw the crew twice before, on Tuesday and Friday.

"The crew is ... in very high spirits. They understand the circumstances under which they are here," said the U.S. Embassy military attache, Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, who saw the crew Sunday.

"They are looking forward to going home. They do offer that they very much appreciate the e-mails that they've been allowed to receive from home," Sealock said without giving any details.

U.S. officials said the two sides were trying to reach a settlement. President Bush was "focused on continued diplomatic efforts" to free the crew, a White House spokeswoman said.

But Washington's position was "unchanged," said Mary Ellen Countryman, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, when asked if an apology from the United States was still possible. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have expressed regret over the loss of the Chinese pilot, but the White House has said it will not apologize for what it says was an accident.

China's top foreign affairs official, Vice Premier Qian Qichen, told Powell in a letter made public Saturday that that stance was "still unacceptable." The United States, he said, must "apologize to the Chinese people."

And the defense minister stepped up the pressure. "It's impermissible for them to want to shirk responsibility," Chi told the missing pilot's wife, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. "The People's Liberation Army does not agree to it. The Chinese people don't agree to it. The people of the world also won't agree to it."

Civilian leaders could be reluctant to oppose the military on such a nationalistic issue. They already are positioning themselves for leadership changes at a Communist Party congress next year, and none can afford to be accused of bending to Washington.

Beijing officials may also fear that a compromise, with China's fighter pilot still missing, would inflame public anger.

Xinhua said soldiers were channeling their grief at the loss of the fighter plane into military strength to "protect the motherland's sovereignty and the people's dignity."

A search for the missing pilot, Wang Wei, was in its seventh day Saturday. The search is the largest ever carried out by China's navy, covering 292,300 square miles by Friday, Xinhua said.

"Although the hope of Wang Wei surviving is getting slim, we will continue to do our utmost to find him," the rescue center commander, Lu Zhiyi, was quoted as saying.

Such reports in recent days in the Chinese press appear to be aimed at preparing the public for official confirmation of Wang's death. Analysts have said that would be a key step toward ending the detention of the American crew.

Wang's wife, Ruan Guoqin, wrote a letter to Bush accusing him of being "too cowardly to voice an apology." The White House confirmed that Bush received the letter.

"What is incredible is your and your government's apathetic attitude toward my husband's life," Xinhua quoted Ruan as writing in the letter. "Can this be the human rights and humanism that you have been talking about every day?"

There was no comment on the controversy Saturday from Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who arrived in Argentina after three days in Chile. The Chinese leader is on a 12-day trip to five South American countries and Cuba.

AP-ES-04-07-01 1818EDT © Copyright 2001 Associated Press.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 07, 2001


Crisis benefits China’s generals

By JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press writer

BEIJING — A crippled American spy plane that landed at one of their airfields was a gift from the sky for China’s generals.

It isn’t clear how much information they’ve extracted from the U.S. Navy EP-3E. But the crisis over its in-flight collision with a Chinese fighter has given them a new way to press Washington for an end to spy flights and to pry more money out of their own civilian leaders.

“This is a God-given chance for the Chinese military to claim greater relevance in Chinese politics,” said Yu Maochun, a China expert at the U.S. Naval Academy. “It’s like a crouching tiger.”

The intense secrecy shrouding Chinese politics has made it hard to know precisely what’s going on during the crisis. But analysts suggest that the already influential People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, may be partly responsible for the continued confinement of the U.S. crew.

The 21 men and three women began their second week in captivity Sunday, with no indication when they might be released.

The crew is being held on Hainan island in the South China Sea, where they made an emergency landing after the collision April 1. U.S. officials say the crew managed to destroy at least some of the plane’s supersensitive equipment, although it isn’t clear how much.

“The principal organization in charge of this whole affair has been the PLA, at least in the early stages,” said Bates Gill, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Signals from Beijing have been confusing.

For two days after the collision, there was almost complete official silence, widely interpreted as a sign that Chinese leaders couldn’t agree on what to do.

Then President Jiang Zemin demanded an apology. U.S. officials responded with statements of regret, which China said were a step in the right direction. U.S. officials then reported that negotiations were making headway.

But this weekend, China ratcheted up the pressure.

China’s top diplomat said statements of regret were unacceptable. Ominously, China’s defense minister, Gen. Chi Haotian, said the 2.5- million member PLA would not allow Washington to “shirk responsibility” for the collision. Chi said China must “build a stronger country and a stronger military.”

“We must convert our anger at hegemonism into a huge motivating force,” said the defense minister, a veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War, when Chinese soldiers fought beside North Korean troops against American-led U.N. forces.

Few outcomes could do more damage to already uneasy U.S.-Chinese relations than for China to prosecute the crew as spies.

Playing hardball might be the military’s way of pushing its agenda. Chief among its objectives is to draw a line in the sky, rolling back U.S. surveillance flights that Yu at the U.S. Naval Academy said take place on a weekly basis.

The collision took place in international airspace dozens of miles from Chinese territory. But China also asserts an exclusive economic zone that reaches 200 nautical miles — 230 standard miles — out to sea. It says spy planes operating there threaten its national security.

“That, I think, is their strategic objective now — to see if they can whittle down our flying in their 200-mile zone,” said Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 09, 2001.

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