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The BBC's Adam Brookes
"The situation is only going to be resolved when China chooses to release the American aircrew"
 real 56k

The BBC's special correspondent Ben Brown:
Looks at the relationship between the US and China
 real 56k

Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
China welcomes US 'regret'
Chinese sailors
Massive search for missing Chinese pilot continues
China has given no signs that it plans an early release of the crew of a United States spy plane that landed on Chinese soil after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet on Sunday.

The US crew violated international law

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi welcomed the expression of regret by Secretary of State Colin Powell over the Chinese pilot missing, presumed dead, after the incident on Sunday.

He described the US move as "a step in the right direction".

The plane landed on Hainan Island, south of the Chinese mainland

But he added that the crew had broken international law, and were now being questioned over the incident.

He repeated the Chinese Government's insistence that the United States "assume full responsibility" for the incident over the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, Mr Powell called the incident "a tragic accident" but stopped short of issuing the full apology demanded by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

'Not enough'

In what appeared to be a conciliatory remark, the spokesman told news reporters that Beijing did not want the event to affect relations between the two countries.

He went on to repeat, however, that the US had made a mistake and should "make an explanation to the Chinese people".

Mr Sun said Beijing would allow US officials access to the 24 crew members only if the US adopted a "co-operative approach". He did not elaborate.

US diplomats on Hainan Island said that they had not been allowed to visit the crew on Thursday.

Earlier, the Chinese ambassador in Washington said there could be no solution to the impasse until the US accepted responsibility.

Chinese fighter pilot
The Chinese pilot ejected, but is presumed dead

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Powell, Ambassador Yang Jeichi said an American apology was "very, very important".

The two men have agreed to continue with negotiations.

Mr Powell's statement appeared to be designed as a way out from the stand-off, using a form of words that went some way towards meeting Chinese demands and assuaging Chinese anger.

President George W Bush, for his part, has demanded the early release of the American plane and its 24 crew members.

Retaliatory measures

BBC Washington correspondent Paul Reynolds says that if this approach is not successful, the administration is likely to draw up a list of possible retaliatory measures.

These could include:

  • Withdrawal of diplomats from Beijing
  • Cancellation of military liaison
  • Hindering China's entry to the World Trade Organisation
  • Cancellation of President Bush's planned visit to China in October
  • Opposing China's Olympics bid for 2008.

However, the major sanctions will be taken only as a last resort and very reluctantly.

The aim from the start has been to settle this as quickly as possible without grovelling to or humiliating China.

Hardened position

Chinese leaders, hardened their position on Wednesday when President Jiang Zemin personally repeated a demand for a US "apology".

But the US government remains adamant in refusing an apology, which might imply the military crew of the EP-3 surveillance aircraft had acted in error in patrolling the Chinese coast and engaging in "listening" activities.

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

The US Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft landed on Hainan Island after being damaged in the collision off southern China.

IKONOS satellite image of US downed surveillance plane
Satellite images show the plane still parked on the runway

The Chinese fighter aircraft crashed into the sea and its pilot is missing, presumed dead.

Crew members of the American plane are understood to have told US military attaché Brigadier General Neal Sealock about the destruction of the top secret information when they met him on Tuesday.

This allays fears in the US that American codes might fall wholesale into Chinese hands - but it is unclear whether all sensitive information was actually destroyed.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: China crisis
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: China's next moves
05 Apr 01 | Americas
Washington's low-key approach
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Spy plane row stokes Chinese passions
05 Apr 01 | Europe
Silence from US allies
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests another US academic
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Key Chinese army officer defects
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