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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
China protests over resumed spy flights
US EP-3 surveillance plane, grounded on Hainan Island since 1 April
US technicians say the spy plane could be repaired
China has reacted angrily to Monday's resumption of US surveillance flights along its coast, which had been suspended since a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet on 1 April.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying that China would urge Washington to "correct such wrongdoings."

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Confident China will return the plane
"China has constantly opposed US spy flights off China's coast and will continue to lodge serious representations with the United States on the resumption of such flights," Mr Sun said.

Mr Sun went on to say that the damaged EP-3 spy plane, which has been held on Hainan Island since the 1 April collision, could not fly home to the United States.

"The Chinese side has several times stated clearly in relevant Sino-US negotiations that it is impossible for the US EP-3 plane to fly back to the US from Hainan Island," he said.

US 'hopeful'

Mr Sun was responding to comments by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday, when he expressed hopes the plane could be repaired at the Chinese base and flown back to the United States.

US technicians who have inspected the stranded American EP-3 aircraft reported that the plane could be repaired sufficiently to fly out of Chinese territory.

Mr Rumsfeld added that he believed Beijing would release the $80m aircraft.

"I would suspect we'll get it back. They wouldn't have allowed an inspection team to go in there if they didn't plan to return the airplane," he said.

Diplomatic dispute

The collision sparked a serious diplomatic dispute between the two countries, which deepened with disagreements over US arms sales to Taiwan and Washington's plans to develop a missile defence shield.

A Pentagon official disclosed on Monday that an unarmed RC-135 surveillance plane had taken off from Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and flown along a routine route close to the northern portion of China's coastline.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to confirm the resumption of surveillance flights, but said the US had always said it was its "prerogative and right to fly over international air space to preserve the peace by flying reconnaissance missions".

China views such flights as provocative and damaging to its national security, and argues they may be illegal under international conventions.

The BBC Beijing correspondent says their resumption after a month's suspension is further evidence that the Bush administration is adopting a more confrontational stance towards China.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Brookes
"China argues the flights are provocative"
The BBC's Tom Carver in Washington
"The US did not want to look weak or capitulate to Chinese pressure"
Former US defence official Lawrence Korb
"These surveillance flights can give a good handle to what is going on"
Prof Feng Cheng Bo of Nankai University
"The cold war way of thinking did not disappear in the US"

Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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See also:

07 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
03 May 01 | Americas
03 May 01 | Americas
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