Chinese media report on talks with Washington, U.S. crew in good spirits
HAIKOU, China (AP) – A U.S. air crew held on a Chinese island received some relief from the boredom of detention Tuesday, reading news reports about their families and working on crossword puzzles. They also gained permission to exercise.
Ten days into the standoff, the 24 crew members are in high spirits and well aware of the political storm surrounding them, diplomats who have visited them said. They are living in a six-story military guesthouse next to an air base – though they apparently are not allowed to go outside.
Meanwhile, tentative signs emerged of progress in efforts to free the crew, held on Hainan island since their spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea nine days ago. The Chinese pilot is still missing.
While still demanding a U.S. apology, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said at a news conference in Uruguay that he was hopeful of a settlement.
”I trust in the ability of both countries to resolve this issue,” said Jiang, who is on a six-nation tour of Latin America.
Also, for the first time, Chinese state-run television and newspapers reported Tuesday on U.S.-Chinese talks to resolve the dispute, a possible indicator that Beijing is preparing its public for the prospect of a negotiated settlement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi disclosed that U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher has been meeting with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong.
Negotiations have stalled over Beijing’s demand for a full apology for the collision and Washington’s refusal to give it. Sun welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s weekend statement that Washington was ”sorry” for the fate of the missing Chinese fighter pilot.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, who met the crew for a fifth time Tuesday evening, said the 21 men and three women were aware of the political deadlock and the intense feelings that blocked their freedom.
”They have great faith in what’s taking place,” said Sealock, the military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. ”They fully understand the circumstances that they are under.”
The crew are being held in the Nanhang No. 1 Guest House in Haikou, capital of Hainan island, which stands on a dusty, two-lane road amid the roar of landing jets and the din of traffic. A half-dozen police in civilian clothes guard the wrought-iron gate.
When U.S. diplomats visit, the security presence on the street swells. Curtains in the building are drawn, and it’s impossible to see inside.
The rooms are air-conditioned – a relief in the muggy tropical climate. The three female crew members sleep in one room, the pilot in another and the rest of the crew two to a room.
It’s ”like a hotel environment,” Sealock said.
Authorities have allowed the crew more privileges, such as the right to exercise in the building, but there is no indication that they have been allowed to go outside, Sealock said.
To help the crew fight boredom, U.S. diplomats have supplied snacks, toiletries, novels, crossword puzzles and copies of news reports about their families. The crew has been allowed to get e-mails from family members and reply through Sealock.
The father of crew member David Cecka said he received a message from his son. Mike Cecka said he was sure if was from the airman because of details in the message. He said it confirmed that the Americans weren’t being mistreated.
”It was a very cheerful, upbeat message,” Mike Cecka told The Associated Press, adding that his son stated clearly that ”the crew intends to return with our country’s honor intact.”
Chinese authorities have given them cigarettes and copies of the China Daily, a state-owned, English-language newspaper.
”They are getting just about everything they need,” Sealock said.
Meanwhile, China stepped up its search for the missing jet pilot, Wang Wei. State media said Tuesday that 4,000 Hainan residents combed beaches with flashlights and that more than 1,000 military and civilian vessels and more than 100 aircraft were searching for the lost pilot.
The meetings Monday and Tuesday between U.S. diplomats and crew members on Hainan island went far more smoothly than previous encounters.
In both cases, Sealock and a consular official went directly to the meeting. Before earlier visits, the diplomats had to discuss ground rules with Chinese officials for up to 3 hours.
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