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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2001

U.S., China should agree to disagree

It's time for the United States and China to agree to disagree, at least for the time being, on who's at fault in the in-flight collision between their aircraft off southern China.

Both sides have more important fish to fry: their mutual desire to preserve the overall framework of this crucial bilateral relationship.

There will be no agreement any time soon on whether it was a hot-dogging Chinese pilot who lost control and collided with the U.S. EP-3E surveillance aircraft, as Washington persuasively maintains, or the American pilot, seemingly bent on the suicide of his 23 crewmates, who swerved into the Chinese F-8.

One factor that seems to paralyze the Chinese side on this subject is that the Chinese military lied in reporting to the civilian center about the particulars of the collision, thus leaving President Jiang Zemin out on a limb he can't climb down from.

Further, the Chinese side protests the EP-3's eavesdropping so near its shores — that's why it had to scramble the F-8s to buzz the EP-3 — while the American side says its aircraft had every right to be where it was, doing what it was doing.

Negotiations yesterday in Beijing went no place. The Chinese sought an American commitment to end its reconnaissance flights, even as the Pentagon recommended a phased resumption of the flights. The Americans want their $100 million aircraft back, and threatened to walk away from the talks if the Chinese side doesn't start talking about a timetable.

This isn't productive. The mounting recriminations and the obvious refusal of either side to give an inch threatens to spiral these talks downward, sweeping all sorts of other interests with them as collateral damage.

The two sides should simply agree to give this topic a rest — as they have many times before — while they work on advancing common interests.