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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 15:21 GMT
China keeps silent over 'bugged' plane
Interior of a Trident aeroplane used by Chinese leaders in the 1970s, now a museum exhibit in Beijing
Chinese leaders have bought Western planes for years
The US ambassador in Beijing says he has heard nothing from the Chinese Government about the alleged bugging of China's newly-purchased presidential plane.

Speaking in Hong Kong, the ambassador Clark Randt said there had been no communication on the issue, official or unofficial.

On Saturday, articles in Britain's Financial Times and the Washington Post both reported that a Boeing 767 airliner manufactured in the US for Chinese President Jiang Zemin contained at least 27 spying devices.

Bugging scandal - the allegations
27 tiny, satellite-controlled bugs found on plane
Some bugs located in toilet and the headboard of the presidential bed
Bugs gave off static whine during test flights
But our correspondent in Beijing says that despite what might be expected, there is no sign so far of this blowing up into a major international incident.

He says the speculation in Beijing is that China is staying quiet because it does not want anything to spoil next month's visit to Beijing by US President George Bush.

Apparently seeking to improve ties, China over the weekend released a prominent Tibetan scholar, jailed six years ago on spying charges.

The US has welcomed his release, but Mr Randt said it did not go far enough. He has named a list of six other dissidents Washington wants released, including Xu Wenli, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for trying to set up a political party, and Li Guangqiang, a Hong Kong man arrested last year for smuggling bibles into China.

Chinese investigation

The spying devices were reportedly discovered shortly after the aeroplane's delivery to China last August.

President Jiang aboard an unidentified airliner last year
President Jiang has not yet used the new plane
According to the FT, the plane was built at the Boeing factory in Seattle, then fitted out with VIP features by other companies in Texas.

Beijing, which had its own personnel supervising the work in the US, has reportedly launched an investigation.

Twenty Chinese air force officers are being questioned on suspicion of negligence and corruption, and two officials from the China Aviation Supplies Export and Import Corporation are in custody.

Relations between the US and China were strained only last year by another incident involving spying equipment.

A US EP-3 spy plane was forced to land in Chinese territory in April after colliding with a Chinese fighter in what China described as a "provocation".

See also:

20 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Diplomatic silence over 'bugged' plane
19 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Terrorism war unites Bush and Jiang
10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
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