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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Diary of the dispute
Chinese military officer outside the US embassy in Beijing
The stand-off seemed to show no sign of abating
BBC News Online looks at the words used by each side in the stand-off over the detention of the American spy plane and crew after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

1 April

China blames the US for the collision between the EP-3E Aries II and the Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.

''A Chinese aircraft was conducting normal flight operations 10km (six miles) south of Hainan Island when a US plane suddenly veered towards it,'' Chinese state television quotes the foreign ministry as saying.

But US Pacific Command spokesman Colonel John Bratton says the collision appears to have been "an accident".

2 April

US President George W Bush demands that China allows US officials prompt access to the crew of the spy plane.

Damage to US spy plane
Chinese TV pictures show damage to the US plane
Mr Bush says he is "troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response" to US requests for access to the 24-crew members.

The US ambassador to Beijing, Joseph Prueher, says it is "inexplicable and inexcusable" to deny access.

Meanwhile, the commander of the US Pacific military forces rejects Beijing's claim that the US plane rammed the Chinese jet and caused it to crash.

Admiral Dennis Blair says the Chinese planes were at fault and sharply criticises China for more "aggressive" tactics in intercepting US planes.

"It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air," he says.

3 April

US President George W Bush warns China not to undermine fruitful and productive bilateral relations by failing to return the aircraft and its crew.

"We have allowed the Chinese Government to do the right thing," he says. "But now it is time for our servicemen and women to return home and it is time for the Chinese Government to return our plane."

It follows comments by the US Ambassador to China, Admiral Joseph Prueher, that he believes the Chinese have searched the plane.

"Based on Chinese law, and international practice, we have the right to conduct an investigation," says Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao.

There is continued anger in the Chinese press, and calls for a full apology.

"Washington's claim that the collision was a result of the Chinese jet bumping the US plane accidentally only attests to US arrogance in managing bilateral relations," writes the China Daily newspaper.

4 April

Chinese President Jiang Zemin personally calls on Washington to publicly apologise for the collision between the plane and a Chinese jet fighter.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Mr Jiang: Demands a full apology
Mr Jiang says the United States "should bear all responsibilities for the collision incident", the Xinhua News Agency reports.

US Secretary of State General Colin Powell calls the incident "a tragic accident" but stops short of issuing the full apology demanded by China.

"We regret the loss of life of that Chinese pilot, but now we need to move on," he says.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says: "The accident took place over an international airspace, over international waters, and we do not understand any reason to apologise."

The US consciously refuses to use the word 'hostage' in any of its media briefings.

Richard Boucher of the US State Department side-steps questions with this response:

"Explain to us what the difference is between somebody who is being detained and somebody who is being held hostage? No, you can look it up in the dictionary yourself ..."

5 April

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi welcomes the expression of regret by Secretary of State Colin Powell over the Chinese pilot missing, presumed dead.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell later expresses "sorrow"
He describes the US move as "a step in the right direction".

But he adds that the crew broke international law, and are being questioned over the incident. He also repeats the Chinese Government's insistence that the US "assume full responsibility" for the incident over the South China Sea.

Later, Mr Bush says he "regrets" that a Chinese pilot is missing and that one of their planes has been lost.

China's Xinhua News Agency translates Mr Bush's expression as "yihan" - a term for regret but a mild one that does not accept any blame.

6 April

The pilot of a second fighter jet shadowing the US spy plane appears on Chinese television, blaming the US for the collision that downed the Chinese jet. The pilot of that aircraft, Wang Wei, is missing, presumed dead.

Chinese fighter pilot Zhao Yu
The pilot of the second jet blames the US
"Wang Wei's plane had no way to evade it... it suddenly collided with him," said the pilot, Zhao Yu.

"The outer propeller on the left wing hit the tailplane of Wang Wei's aircraft... it was smashed to bits."

Meanwhile Mr Jiang repeats his demand that the US apologise for the mid-air collision.

"I have visited many countries and I see that when people have an accident, the two groups involved... always say 'excuse me'," Mr Jiang said, speaking in Santiago, Chile.

He says Chinese officials are exasperated by continued US surveillance flights.

"American planes come to the edge of our country... this sort of conduct is not acceptable in any country."

Mr Bush expresses optimism about the negotiations to return the spy plane crew.

"We're working hard to bring them home and we think we're making progress," he says.

8 April

A week after the crash Colin Powell appears to make a concession, by using the word "sorry" when referring to the loss of the Chinese fighter pilot, Wang Wei.

"We have expressed regrets, we've expressed our sorrow, and we are sorry that a life was lost," he says.

Washington describes as a humanitarian gesture, a personal letter from Mr Bush to the wife of the pilot killed.

9 April

Mr Bush signals Washington's growing impatience, renewing his call for the crew to be released.

US President George Bush
It is Mr Bush's first major foreign policy test
"Every day that goes by increases the potential that our relations with China will be damaged," Mr Bush tells reporters.

"We're working behind the scenes, we've got every diplomatic channel open, we're in discussions with the Chinese," he says.

China again demands a US apology.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao says US statements to date are "unacceptable".

"If there is no apology, it is going to make it more difficult to find a solution to this very serious incident, in which China is the victim," he says. "We ask the United States to take responsibility for this incident in a clear and active way by apologising to the Chinese people."

Meanwhile the BBC's Washington correspondent Stephen Sackur says US legislators are now openly referring to the 24 crew members as "hostages".

10 April

Mr Jiang, who is on a tour of Latin America, expresses confidence that an agreement can be reached to end the dispute.

"Taking into account the important roles of both countries, I believe that we should find an adequate solution to this problem," he says.

But in the US there is increasing public perception that the crew are being held hostage.

Senator Robert Torricelli, a Democrat who represents New Jersey, asks "whether it is appropriate to have both an ambassador and hostages in the same country".

Meanwhile US officials say the latest information received from the spy plane crew reinforces their belief that a Chinese fighter pilot was responsible for the collision on 1 April.

11 April

China announces the release of the 24 US crew after it receives a letter from the US, delivered by US Ambassador Joseph Prueher.

We are very sorry for their loss

US letter to China
"Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft. Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss," it says.

"Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures.

"We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China's efforts to see to the well-being of our crew."

It is an expression of sorrow but does not accept blame for the incident. And the US spy plane remains on Chinese soil.

29 April

China says it will allow the US to inspect the plane after completing its own inspection and collection of evidence.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney says that the latest Chinese move is an "encouraging sign".

4 May

Pentagon announces that "all required inspections" have been carried out with the full co-operation of the Chinese military.

US officials then say that the plane could be repaired and flown home.

7 May

A Pentagon official says the US has flown its first reconnaissance flight off the Chinese coast since the incident.

8 May

China reacts angrily to the news, urging Washington to "correct such wrongdoings".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi says: "China has constantly opposed US spy flights off China's coast and will continue to lodge serious representations with the United States on the resumption of such flights."

He goes on to say that the damaged plane could not fly home to the United States.

20 May

Mr Cheney says the plane is in "bad shape" and may have to be dismantled and returned in crates.

He adds that he has no doubt that China will return the plane.

24 May

China says it has agreed to America's request to return the plane.

Key stories:


Spy plane row



See also:

09 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
07 Apr 01 | Americas
06 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
08 Apr 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
09 Apr 01 | Media reports
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