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US President George W Bush
"I am troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response"
 real 56k

Former RAF navigator, John Nicoll
"This is a massive intelligence coup for the Chinese"
 real 28k

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"There is real potential for this to blow up into a major diplomatic incident"
 real 56k

US ambassador in Beijing Admiral Joseph Prueher
says China cannot legally detain the American air crew
 real 56k

Monday, 2 April, 2001, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
China holds US spy plane crew
The US says the plane was on a routine mission
The US says the plane was on a routine mission
The US has criticised the Chinese authorities for continuing to hold the crew of a US surveillance plane which made an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet.

It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air

Admiral Dennis Blair
The US ambassador to Beijing, Joseph Prueher, told journalists in the Chinese capital that so far, US officials had not been allowed to see the plane or its 24 crew members.

He said there was no legal basis for this, and described it is "inexplicable and inexcusable".

The Americans say the aircraft - an EP-3 surveillance plane - is sovereign US "territory" and should not be boarded by Chinese officials.

The American plane, which is packed with sensitive monitoring equipment, is now on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Strong words

In an escalating row over the incident, the commander of the US Pacific military forces rejected Beijing's claim that the American plane rammed the Chinese jet on Sunday and caused it to crash.

Admiral Dennis Blair said that in fact the Chinese planes were at fault and sharply criticised China for more "aggressive" tactics in intercepting US planes.

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

US military officials have warned the Chinese not to "seize, board or inspect" the plane without US permission.

US Brigadier General Neal Sealock and Naval Attache Bradley Kaplan
US officials are hoping to secure the release of the plane's crew
None of the American crew were hurt, but rescue parties are searching for the Chinese pilot whose whereabouts are not known.

Admiral Blair said that US officials had had no contact with the crew since its initial report that it landed with no injuries.

"We just don't know" what has happened to them, Admiral Blair said.

The entire aircraft is considered sovereign US territory, and the Chinese are not to seize, inspect or board it without US permission

Lt Commander Sean Kelly

As American officials travelled to Lingshui military airport, on Hainan Island, US Lieutenant Commander Sean Kelly acknowledged that Chinese officials might refuse to see the delegation.

Analysts have said Beijing's statements over the collision are among the strongest heard for almost two years and say the standoff could be a long one.

'Proper arrangements'

China's Foreign Ministry has said that "proper arrangements" had been made for the crew, but did not say where they were.

The ministry has put all the blame on the US aircraft for causing the collision.

''A Chinese aircraft was conducting normal flight operations 10km (6 miles) south of Hainan Island when a US plane suddenly veered towards it,'' Chinese state television quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.

The ministry said it had lodged a protest with US authorities and reserved the right to seek damages.

The BBC's correspondent in Washington, Richard Lister, says the US is moving swiftly to try to defuse what could become a major diplomatic row.

China-US tensions
May 1999: US missile in Kosovo campaign mistakenly hits China embassy in Belgrade
January 2001: George W Bush becomes US President. Pledges tough line with China on arms sales to Taiwan/national missile defence shield
February 2001: US attacks China human rights record
March 2001: Second US-based academic arrested on China trip
April 2001: US surveillance plane lands in China

Experts say run-ins between Chinese and US aircraft are quite common along the Chinese coast, although it was the first time an aircraft had made an emergency landing.

"It's very regular for the American navy to have their planes intruding into Chinese airspace," Yan Xuetong, an international studies expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University said.

"The Chinese then send up fighters and chase them out."

It comes at a time when Sino-American relations are under increasing strain.

US plans to develop a national missile shield - the so-called "son of star wars" - are a particularly contentious issue.

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See also:

02 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Inside the US spy plane
02 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Strained US-China ties
22 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Tension in US-China talks
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests another US academic
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Key Chinese army officer defects
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