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The BBC's Tom Carver in Washington
"The US did not want to look weak or capitulate to Chinese pressure"
 real 56k

The BBC's Gavin Hewitt in Shanghai
"There is no doubt that the Chinese will be very angry"
 real 28k

Former US defence official Lawrence Korb
"These surveillance flights can give a good handle to what is going on"
 real 28k

Prof Feng Cheng Bo of Nankai University
"The cold war way of thinking did not disappear in the US"
 real 28k

Monday, 7 May, 2001, 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK
US resumes spy plane flights
US EP-3 surveillance plane, grounded on Hainan Island since 1 April
The spy plane incident sparked a serious diplomatic dispute
The United States has carried out its first reconnaissance flight off the Chinese coast since one of its spy planes was involved in a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet on 1 April.

A US Defence Department official said an unarmed RC-135 surveillance plane had taken off from Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and flown along a routine route close to the northern portion of China's coastline.

It is our prerogative and right to fly over international airspace to preserve the peace by flying reconnaissance missions

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
The plane's presence drew no response from the Chinese military and was not intercepted by their fighter planes, added US official.

Last month's mid-air collision, which resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot, sparked a serious diplomatic dispute between the two countries, and it was 11 days before the crew of the US spy plane was allowed to return home.

Beijing demanded an end to US surveillance flights off its coast.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to confirm the resumption of surveillance flights, adding that the US has always said it is its "prerogative and right to fly over international airspace to preserve the peace by flying reconnaissance missions".

Washington had earlier hinted future surveillance flights might be escorted by US fighter jets. However, Monday's mission was completed without an escort.

US inspection

The resumption of flights follows the inspection by US technicians of the American EP-3 aircraft which has been held by the Chinese on Hainan Island since it was forced to make an emergency landing there after last month's collision.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Confident China will return the plane
The technicians reported that the plane could be repaired sufficiently to fly it out of Chinese territory. Another alternative would be to dismantle it and ship it out by boat.

On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he believed Beijing would release the $80m aircraft.

"I would suspect we'll get it back. They wouldn't have allowed an inspection team to go in there if they didn't plan to return the airplane."

The RC-135 spy plane
Equipped to collect electronic signals
Crew: 21-27, depending on mission
First deployed in the 1960s, has been extensively modified
Used for operations in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf and the Balkans
The US air force has 14 of these planes in locations around the world
US officials say the Chinese are likely to have gained valuable intelligence during the weeks they did not allow Americans to inspect it.

But the US spy plane is not the only issue straining Sino-American relations at the moment.

There was further confusion last week as the Pentagon made public an order suspending all military contacts with China. The statement was retracted two hours later and attributed to a misinterpretation of Mr Rumsfeld's intentions.

The Bush administration now says it is reviewing contacts and activities with the Chinese armed forces on a case-by-case basis.

Beijing, for its part, blasted President George Bush's plans for a US missile defence system, describing them as "supremacist", and warned it could "break the present fragile global security equilibrium".

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See also:

04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US spy plane 'could fly home'
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China attacks 'supremacist' US
03 May 01 | Americas
China blasts Bush policies
03 May 01 | Americas
US 'split' on China policy
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