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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

China boosts anti-U.S. rhetoric, searches for pilot

 •  Cutaway diagram of the spy plane

By Eugene Tang
Bloomberg News

HAINAN, China — China's state-run press published front-page photos of a missing fighter pilot posing near his F-8 jet as the nation pressed its claim that the U.S. was to blame for a midair collision with a U.S. Navy plane.

The damaged U.S. Navy EP-3 electronic reconnaissance plane is parked at Lingshui base on Hainan Island in a photo released by China's official news agency. The plane's black nose cone, which contained electronics equipment, is missing.

Xinhua News Service via Associated Press

The Chinese Ministry of Defense said it "condemns" the U.S., which must be held "fully responsible," according to the Xinhua news agency. Dozens of ships and planes were searching for the pilot, Navy Captain Wang Wei.

As a diplomatic deadlock over the release of the U.S. plane and its 24-member crew entered a third day, Chinese media helped fan anti-U.S. sentiment. A public outcry could complicate efforts to resolve the worst rupture in Sino-U.S. relations since NATO planes bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May, 1999.

"What it will take is calmer heads prevailing on both sides," said Jan Berris, vice president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations in New York. "The longer this goes on, the more it will escalate and the more dangerous the situation will become."

The U.S. EP-3 plane made an emergency landing at a Hainan air base after the accident. China has refused to return the plane or its crew, and U.S. officials said a U.S. apology won't be forthcoming.

And Chinese officials are upping the ante. Two U.S. diplomats who did meet the Navy crew in Hainan were forbidden to discuss the collision, according to Taiwan's Central News agency, citing unidentified sources. The diplomats, accompanied by Chinese officials, were allowed to ask only about the health of the Navy crew and ask about how they've been treated in Hainan, the news agency said.

U.S. consulate officials couldn't be reached to confirm the Taiwan agency's report.


The U.S. has insisted that the propeller-powered surveillance plane was on routine patrol when it was accidentally bumped by the Chinese jet, a home-built variant of the Russian MIG-21 fighter whose design dates to the mid-1960s.

If the impasse drags on, it may affect U.S. talks to normalize trade relations with China, due in June. President George W. Bush warned yesterday that U.S. relations with China hang in the balance. "This accident has the potential of undermining our hopes for a fruitful and productive relationship between our two countries," Bush said at the White House.

The U.S. crewmembers were transferred to a guest house in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, three hours' drive from Lingshui, and were allowed to meet U.S. diplomats for the first time last night. "They suffered no injuries and they have not been mistreated," Bush said.

In Beijing today, there were few signs of increased tension. President Jiang departed as scheduled today for a six-nation tour of Latin America.

Outside the U.S. Embassy, the scene of past anti-U.S. protests, the only Chinese in sight were seeking U.S. visas.

"I'm not concerned about the incident," said a pharmaceutical company employee surnamed Hou, who is hoping his wife will get a visa to study at Colorado State University.


A elderly Beijing resident surnamed Chen, seeking a visa to visit her daughter in Boston, was more outspoken. "The U.S. should apologize," she said. "If you bumped into me on the street you would be obligated to apologize to me. This situation is the same."

Anonymous Chinese-language comments posted on an Internet chat room sponsored by Netease.com echoed such remarks. Some even took the Chinese leadership to task for moving too slowly.

One message, posted by a writer who described himself as Chengshwu: Is President Jiang "getting so fat that he couldn't make the move" to restore China's honor? Another: "March to the U.S. and send the Yankees to hell."

The impasse over the U.S. plane is one of the first foreign policy tests of Bush's three-month old administration. The U.S. is China's No. 2 trading partner, with commerce in products ranging from toys to advanced machinery totaling $116.3 billion in 2000.

U.S.-Sino relations weren't helped by reports that China has formally charged American University sociologist Gao Zhan, who has U.S. residency, with spying. She has been in detention in Beijing since Feb. 11.

China also has detained another U.S. resident scholar, Li Shaoming, on charges of breaching the nation's security. The arrests followed the defection to the U.S. last December of Xu Junping, an army colonel in charge of China's military strategies.

The U.S. Navy surveillance plane was monitoring radio and radar signals 114 kilometers off Hainan's coast on Sunday, Washington says, flying in international airspace when it was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets.


The plane collided in midair with one of the Chinese fighters, which went down. The U.S. plane landed at Lingshui airport on Hainan, China's southernmost province, 20 minutes after the collision.

The U.S. plane has been left on the tarmac at Lingshui and remained under heavy military guard. Chinese newspapers published photographs of the U.S. plane, its nose cone dented and one propeller visibly damaged. Later television footage showed that the nose cone had been removed.

The EP-3's primary role is to glean electronic information about Chinese land, air and sea-based radar systems, according to Jeffrey Richelson, a Washington-based intelligence analyst.

Chinese officials began removing electronic gear from the aircraft, Cable News Network said, citing unidentified Pentagon sources.

"We have every reason to think the Chinese have been all over the airplane," U.S. Ambassador-to-China Joseph Prueher told ABC's "Good Morning America" program.