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Saturday, 19 January, 2002, 09:12 GMT
Chinese leader's plane 'bugged'
President Jiang Zemin of China
President Jiang Zemin is reported to be furious
Chinese intelligence officials are reported to have discovered more than 20 spying devices in a Boeing 767 purchased from the United States for use by President Jiang Zemin.

Unnamed officials quoted by Britain's Financial Times newspaper and the Washington Post say the tiny, satellite-controlled bugs were discovered when they emitted static during test flights in China last year.


I know that we had no culpability whatsoever in this - all we did was put an interior in it

Jerry Gore
president of Gore Design in Texas

One was found in a lavatory and another in the headboard of the presidential bed.

The development comes only a month before an important summit between Mr Jiang and President George W Bush, and the Chinese leader is said to be furious.

China has not formally accused Washington of spying but, according to the Washington Post, officials are blaming US intelligence agencies for the bugs.

Arrests

According to the FT, the plane was built at the Boeing factory in Seattle, then fitted out with VIP features by other companies in Texas.

The construction was under 24-hour Chinese surveillance throughout, with Chinese troops posted at the hangar, and the paper says that Beijing has now launched an investigation into how the work was handled.

A Boeing 767 like the one delivered to China
The modifications were carried out under Chinese surveillance
The investigation is probing two bodies involved - the air force-run China United Airlines and the state-owned China Aviation Supplies Export and Import Corporation (CASC).

Twenty Chinese air force officers are already being questioned on suspicion of negligence and corruption, and two CASC officials are in custody.

According to the Washington Post, the airliner is now sitting with its insides torn out at an air base north of Beijing.

A Chinese source said 27 bugs had been discovered on the plane since its delivery in August and it has never been used officially.

One of the Texas companies which fitted out the plane has denied any tampering with the plane.

"I know that we had no culpability whatsoever in this - all we did was put an interior in it," said Jerry Gore, president of Gore Design in San Antonio.

Awkward timing

The forthcoming summit is scheduled to take place 30 years to the day after Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong held an historic meeting to break the Cold War ice between them.

But relations between the two powers were strained only last year by another incident involving spying equipment.

A Boeing 767 like the one delivered to China
A Boeing 767 like the one delivered to China
A US EP-3 spy plane was forced to land in Chinese territory in April after colliding with a Chinese fighter.

China, which described the plane's flight along the Chinese coast as a "provocation", eventually released the crew and the plane - but only after thoroughly inspecting the sensitive equipment on board.

The incident appeared to confirm signals from the Bush administration in Washington that it now regarded China as a major strategic rival.

Relations did however appear to improve last month when China was finally admitted to the World Trade Organisation.

Beijing noticeably toned down its rhetoric during that month's parliamentary election in Taiwan - a disputed territory which China regards as its own and which is a key US ally.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
19 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Terrorism war unites Bush and Jiang
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