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The BBC's Nick Bryant
"If they are going to get the plane back, and that is a big if right now, then it is going to have to be taken back in bits"
 real 28k

Friday, 4 May, 2001, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
US spy plane 'could fly home'
American spy plane
The plane has been held since 1 April
US officials say the navy spy plane grounded on Hainan Island in southern China could be repaired and flown home.

A team of civilian engineers from the aircraft's manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin, spent six hours on the plane checking its electronics, hydraulics and fuel systems.


All required inspections are complete. They got what they needed

Pentagon spokesman

The four-engine EP-3 surveillance plane has been held since its mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet 1 April.

The engineers said it could fly back to the United States if repairs were carried out.

But the Chinese and US governments have not reached an agreement about how the plane should be returned.

US options

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is known to favour flying the plane off the island. But that option is said to have been ruled out by Chinese officials in Beijing.

George Bush
China says Bush's anti-missile defence might spark off an arms race

An alternative would be to partially dismantle the plane and transport it by ship or aircraft.

It is still unclear whether the Bush administration will press for it to be flown home.

The People's Liberation Army had withheld power from the US inspection team for two days, but supplied it on Friday.

Damage

The US team is flying to Hawaii on Saturday to provide a complete report on damage to the plane.

The collision damaged two of the EP-3's engines and one of its four propellers. It also caused the plane's nose cone to break off, and pieces of metal punctured parts of the fuselage.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld: Intentions "misinterpreted"

The White House has sought to play down any confusion in US policy towards China, amid tension over the spy plane standoff and President George Bush's pledge to defend Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

Relations have also been strained over US plans for a missile defence shield.

The official China Daily newspaper said the scheme appears aimed at establishing "absolute military supremacy" in the world.

US review

The White House says President Bush has ordered federal agencies to review contacts with China "on a case-by-case basis".

In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, the US Department of Defense said all military ties with China had been suspended, only to retract the statement two hours later.

The Pentagon said the misunderstanding was the result of an aide's misinterpretation of Mr Rumsfeld's intentions.

Meanwhile, both China and the US are boosting internet security after an escalation of hacker attacks from the two countries disrupting each other's systems.

Several official Chinese websites have been defaced with pornographic material, while in the US, the Department of Labour was among those hit.

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See also:

04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China attacks 'supremacist' US
03 May 01 | Americas
US 'split' on China policy
03 May 01 | Sci/Tech
US facing Chinese cyber blitz
01 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Spy plane recovery team arrive
02 May 01 | Americas
US rejects 'Made in China' berets
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