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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
China snubs US again
USS Inchon [photo US Navy]
The USS Inchon was due at the end of June
China has refused to allow a United States warship to make a routine call at Hong Kong's port.

The Chinese foreign ministry refused to give any reasons for denying the helicopter carrier USS Inchon permission to dock.

spy plane
The spy plane has been detained on Hainan island
The action is being seen as a sign of Beijing's displeasure at recent US policy towards China.

It comes despite an agreement between the two countries on repatriation of the US EP-3 spy plane stranded on Hainan Island since a collision with a Chinese jet fighter almost two months ago.

This was the first such request since the spy plane incident.

The last time Beijing withheld such permission was after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade two years ago.

'Case-by-case'

BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticas says visits by US warships to Hong Kong are common, with over 60 passing through every year.

Antonov 124 cargo plane
The AN 124 is the largest cargo plane in the world
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said such visits were approved on a "case-by-case basis", echoing a similar announcement by Washington about military contacts with Beijing.

And he attacked Washington's resumption of surveillance flights near Chinese territory on 7 May, just over a month after the spy plane incident.

"The United States should learn its lesson and change this erroneous practice of sending planes to do surveillance off the Chinese coast," he said.

Aircraft's return

Full details and the timing are yet to be decided, but the officials suggested the grounded spy plane will be partly dismantled and flown out on a giant Antonov transport aircraft.

Mr Zhu confirmed a deal had been reached to "take home the EP-3 in parts".

The AN-124, the world's largest cargo plane, which first flew under the Soviet flag in 1982, is made both in the Ukraine and Russia and used commercially.

China detained the 24 members of the US crew for 11 tense days after the collision, which killed the pilot of the Chinese fighter.

Washington officials pushed Beijing to let the aircraft be repaired and flown out of China but Beijing said this would have been a national humiliation.

Correspondents say that making the US take the plane apart for a long and expensive journey home could help China's leaders appease a nationalistic public outraged by the incident.

The $80m plane will in effect be turned into scrap, it is thought.

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See also:

23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US backs Dalai Lama
07 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US resumes spy plane flights
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US spy plane 'could fly home'
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