U.S., China prepare for spy plane talks
BEIJING (AP) – Teams of U.S. and Chinese negotiators – including an American deputy defense secretary and a Chinese Foreign Ministry official – staked out tough positions ahead of talks Wednesday on the return of a U.S. spy plane and the collision that killed a Chinese fighter pilot.
Tensions remain high between the two nations, even after the release of 24 U.S. crew members who were held for 11 days after making an emergency landing on Hainan island in the South China Sea.
China has demanded an end to U.S. surveillance flights near its territory and says it wants to discuss how to avoid such incidents during Wednesday’s talks at the Foreign Ministry, set to begin at 3 p.m. (3 a.m. Wednesday EDT).
Both sides say they will review the cause of the collision. Beijing insists the EP-3E surveillance plane caused the April 1 crash, and that Washington must take responsibility. U.S. officials say the Chinese F-8 fighter plane was probably at fault.
The Bush administration has rejected the call for an end to the surveillance flights, saying it has the right to fly in international air space. U.S. officials have made bringing the plane home their priority since the crew’s release.
”We want our airplane back, and we’re going to make that point, and we would expect to get a response,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday, adding that he expected the matter to be addressed in the talks in Beijing.
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Peter F. Verga, who heads the U.S. delegation, told reporters only that his side was seeking more information.
”We’re here … to meet with the Chinese government and exchange information regarding the ongoing situation with our reconnaissance aircraft,” Verga said Tuesday at Beijing’s airport.
Six of the eight members of the U.S. team are military officers or Defense Department officials. They include an expert on the EP-3E and Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the U.S. Embassy military attache who served as chief contact with the crew during their captivity.
China’s delegation will be led by Lu Shimin, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American and Oceanic Affairs Department, said spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue. She said military officials would also be in the delegation, but provided no details.
”It is our hope that the U.S. side will take a constructive attitude in negotiations so as to ensure a proper settlement of the question,” Zhang told reporters.
She refused to say whether China would discuss returning the plane. It is believed to be sitting at the Hainan air base where it landed.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley suggested possible ways to retrieve the plane, including sending in a team of aeronautical engineers familiar with the construction of the EP-3E to determine the repairs needed.
”If that is doable, and it’s acceptable to the Chinese, we could then consider sending in a repair team of some sort with the appropriate parts and the tools and the auxiliary equipment you would need to effect the repairs and fly the plane out,” he said Tuesday.
If experts deem the plane beyond repair or the Chinese refuse to allow any work on the aircraft, an alternative would be ”to literally disassemble the plane and then figure out a way to either fly the parts of the airplane off the island or ship them off the island in crates or something,” Quigley said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Tuesday that China would deal with the plane lawfully.
”For our part we are continuing our investigation, and we are going to treat or manage the plane according to the law,” Zhu said, speaking to reporters in Caracas, Venezuela, where President Jiang Zemin was wrapping up a 12-day Latin America tour. Zhu claimed the U.S. plane was flying ”inside” a Chinese territorial zone before it was intercepted by the Chinese fighter planes. He reiterated China’s dismissal of the U.S. explanations of the cause of the crash.
”Many high U.S. officials have given very irresponsible statements (about the incident), confusing the truth. At this moment they also are trying to blame us, and they must take responsibility,” Zhu said. ”We express our dissatisfaction.”
U.S. officials say the Chinese jet slammed into one of the EP-3E’s four propeller engines before swinging into the U.S. plane’s nose. The impact broke the Chinese jet in half, U.S. diplomats have said.
China also claims the United States violated its sovereignty by landing on Hainan without securing Chinese permission. U.S. officials say the plane was badly damaged and landed after sending an emergency signal.
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