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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 09:38 GMT
Diplomatic silence over 'bugged' plane
Interior of a Trident aeroplane used by Chinese leaders in the 1970s, now a museum exhibit in Beijing
Chinese leaders have used Western planes for years
Chinese and American officials are refusing to comment on Western press reports that a Boeing 767 airliner manufactured in the US for Chinese President Jiang Zemin contained more than 20 spying devices.


We're still trying to contact relevant departments on this matter

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
According to Britain's Financial Times and the Washington Post, President Jiang is said to be furious and a major investigation has been launched inside China.

But the Chinese and US governments are so far avoiding the issue in public, with China saying it is too early to comment.

The development comes just weeks before a scheduled Sino-US summit in Beijing, and China has been restating its commitment to good ties with Washington.

"We're still trying to contact relevant departments on this matter," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told the French news agency AFP.

A Boeing 767 like the one delivered to China
The modifications were carried out under Chinese surveillance
"We will notify you when we have a comment."

As she was speaking, Vice President Hu Jintao was telling a meeting of former US ambassadors and academics in Beijing that good ties between the two states were "in the interest of both nations" and the world.

Mr Hu said there had been "ups and downs" in relations, but he made no reference to the bugging story, which has not been reported in the Chinese media.

In Washington, White House spokesman Taylor Gross said: "We never discuss these kinds of allegations."

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.

Bugging scandal - the allegations
27 tiny, satellite-controlled bugs found on plane
some bugs located in toilet and the headboard of the presidential bed
bugs gave off static whine during test flights
Beijing, which had its own personnel supervising the work in the US, has now reportedly launched an investigation. Twenty Chinese air force officers are being questioned on suspicion of negligence and corruption, and two officials from the China Aviation Supplies Export and Import Corporation are in custody.

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

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

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

President Jiang aboard an unidentified airliner last year
President Jiang is reported to be furious
A US EP-3 spy plane was forced to land in Chinese territory in April after colliding with a Chinese fighter in what China described as a "provocation".

Last week, a top Pentagon official confirmed that China was regarded as a potential military threat.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Lisa Bronsonerming said export licence applications for US microelectronic goods were being reviewed in the light of the "many questions about the future direction of China's foreign and security policies".

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Juliet Gilkes
"Both Washington and Beijing have declined to comment"
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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