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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
'Productive' spy plane talks
US negotiator, Peter Verga
US negotiator Peter Verga after a day of "productive" talks
The United States on Thursday reported a changed tone in a second round of spy plane meetings with China and said talks will continue as Washington presses for the return of its stranded aircraft.

We covered all the items that were on the agenda, and I found today's session to be productive

US negotiator Peter Verga

"The tenor was different from the first meeting and they were able to complete the agenda which included discussion of the return of the airplane," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

But he added that China had made no commitment to return the $80m plane, which is filled with top-secret surveillance equipment, during the 90-minute meeting.

After a first round of the talks in Beijing on Wednesday, the United States had protested that China was unwilling to discuss return of the EP-3 reconnaissance plane, which made an emergency landing in China after colliding with a Chinese fighter on 1 April.

Continuing diplomacy

"We covered all the items on the agenda and I found today's session to be very productive," said Peter Verga, acting defence undersecretary, who is leading the US delegation in Beijing.

The White House spokesman added that talks with China would now proceed at other diplomatic levels, and that Chinese officials involved in Thursday's discussions would consult with superiors.

"The matter is not resolved," Mr Fleischer said. "We still want the plane."

Avoiding future incidents

"We have agreed to discuss how to avoid future incidents at the next meeting of the military maritime consultative agreement," he added, referring to a previously existing agreement designed to cover such incidents.

EP-3 plane an the tarmac at Hainan
The fate of the spy plane is crucial to the talks

American and Chinese negotiators had planned to meet on Monday for this purpose but they decided that was too early and that they need more time to prepare an agenda, he said.

China offered no immediate comment on the talks, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue indicated they would continue.

Staying in touch

"The two sides agreed to continue discussions and stay in touch and finalise the future meeting through diplomatic channels," Ms Zhang said.

Washington wants the quick return of its plane, while China has demanded an end to US spy flights near the Chinese coast, which it sees as an affront to its national sovereignty.

Wang
Chinese pilot Wang Wei is being given the status of a national hero
The United States says it intends to continue the reconnaissance flights, and the Washington Post reported on Thursday that the Defence Department has drawn up standby plans for fighters to escort the spy planes if needed.

Both sides still blame each other for the collision that resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, who bailed out as his plane crashed into the South China Sea.

Major test

BBC State Department correspondent Richard Lister says the issue is a major test of the US-China relationship and, unless a resolution comes soon, that relationship could be seriously damaged.

Separately, in a sign of continuing friction between the two countries, the US State Department issued a warning on Thursday that Americans originally from China who have criticized Chinese government policies face a risk of detention if they return there.

The warning follows recent detentions by China of several US citizens or residents, including two Americans detained on espionage.

Although the United States has consistently said the issues of the detained Americans and the spy plane dispute are not related.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
"The agreement to keep talking is the first hopeful sign"

Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT
See also:

18 Apr 01 | Europe
18 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Apr 01 | Americas
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Apr 01 | Americas
15 Apr 01 | Americas
13 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
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