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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Is eavesdropping justified?

The Chinese President Jiang Zemin has blamed the United States for the weekend collision between a US navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

The high-tech jet belongs to an elite, highly classified reconnaissance unit and is packed with equipment capable of intercepting and analysing radio and other electronic communications anywhere in the world.

Defence analysts say it would be catastrophic blow for the US if the Chinese manage to gain access to the aircraft and obtain knowledge of the computers and hard disks on board.

Is such an aircraft needed in a post-Cold War world? Is such surveillance justified? Has it gone too far?

This debate is now closed. Please read a selection of your comments below.

Nations do not exist in a benign world order

Sook Eng Tan, Singapore
The fact that such technologies exist points to the greater question of what constitutes international relations and definitions of security. Nations do not exist in a benign world order where the humanist agenda is carried forth through globalisation. China is simply practising what it has learnt from past interaction. One would have thought the US more familiar with its own terms of discourse.
Sook Eng Tan, Singapore

All countries gather intelligence one way or another. The only way to ensure that the "free world" remains free, is to do a better job of getting information on a potential adversary and then taking steps to develop the necessary weapons to defeat them should that need ever arise. Intelligence gathering is not only justified, it is essential to world peace.
Joe Pow, USA

When a Russian air force lieutenant defected to Japan aboard a brand new top secret MIG in 1975, Americans literally took that plane apart.
Leonid, Russia

China represents the next big threat to Western democracies over the next few decades. I am glad to see that the US finally has a President who is willing to call a spade an spade (or at least thinking about it) - that China is an adversary. The commercial interests that held sway in the Clinton administration turned a blind eye to the Chinese strategy of using commercial acquisitions to build their nation into a superpower. In short, they have a superiority complex. The sooner we deal with China the safer the world will be.
Paul Rossi, Philadelphia, USA

I find it interesting that many see nothing wrong with eavesdropping yet if you asked any young child if they thought it was a good thing they would say no.
Sean Belcher, USA

Spying is the only way of trying to find out what's really going on

Graeme, England
All industrial nations do this. Most would love the budget that US agencies have. All countries are self-serving and dishonest when dealing with each other. Spying is the only way of trying to find out what's really going on.
Graeme, England

The United States is acting in its best interests by eavesdropping on China. The US would like to see all vital shipping channels remain open and Taiwan co-exist with the PRC in peace. The US would be well advised to develop excellent relations with India which is probably the only democracy in that region with the potential of countering China.
Jayant Mehta, USA

Intelligence surveillance of another country's military forces is an indispensable means to keep apprised of their capabilities and intentions. It is an entirely legitimate activity and one that, when properly conducted, is in no way prohibited under international law. Indeed, in situations where there is even a possibility that the state under observation may put its armed forces to use, it would be shortsighted and irresponsible not to gather such information. Intelligence gathering was hardly invented during the Cold War, and there is no reason to suppose or to suggest that it has outlived its usefulness today.

Of course the US is justified in keeping tabs on the Chinese regime. If a surprise invasion of Taiwan were launched by the PLA, the US would be criticised for being caught unawares. It will take some time for the Chinese to analyse the EP-3's systems. Once the US aircrew are safely away I wouldn't be surprised to hear that a B2 Spirit has destroyed the aircraft with a precision guided weapon.
Steve M, UK

I think that America's surveillance over other countries is completely illegal and unfriendly. Just image if China sent a plane along the US coast, how would it respond? We Chinese are peaceful and friendly and want to establish a good relationship with other countries.
Wanhua Yu, P.R. China

A lot of noise about nothing

Alex, NZ, etc
China is hardly a nation without its spies. I suspect that the equipment on board would have been destroyed before the Chinese had a chance to get to the plane and crew. A lot of noise about nothing.
Alex, NZ, etc

I really wonder what would have happened had a Chinese spy plane been flying along the Eastern Coast of the United States, a few hundred kilometres away from Washington? Would the Americans have intervened?
Stephen C, Malta

I find it hilarious that the Americans have hand-delivered the Chinese a package containing their latest top secret gadgets. If it was a Chinese plane on Long Island I can't imagine the Americans would be rushing to give it back.
Mark, Austria

The US is merely trying to protect its national interest by monitoring the actions of a state where little trust exists between the two countries. Likewise China is perfectly within its rights to inspect the contents of the plane for its own advantage and the perceived advantage of its people. Spying always has and always will exist. Where is the debate?
Nick, UK

You win some and you lose some

Tim, France
I'm sure that we'd all be astonished and afraid if we really knew what the powers that be in this world have at their disposal to spy on individuals, companies, institutions and nations. Because we don't know we can't make any statements as to whether it's necessary or not because we don't know what information they gather and what they use it for. One thing is sure though, you win some and you lose some. The Chinese should return the crew home ASAP unharmed but, in my opinion are quite within their rights to tear the plane apart and use whatever they find to their own advantage.
Tim, France

Provided the aircraft was operating in international airspace, the US is probably within its rights. If surveillance has any place in the 21st century, it's for trying to find out what potential enemies may be planning.
Brian Beesley, UK

Every country spies. But it's funny watching the USA try and pretend the plane was there for innocent reasons.
Colin Wright, UK

Continued surveillance remains a prudent and essential measure

Major (Retd) Chris Klein, England
This incident proves that the Cold War only ended in the West. China remains a highly militarised, undemocratic country that is quite willing to terrorise its own people into meek submission. The country continues to increase its defence expenditure when most others are reducing theirs. Its ballistic missile force represents a material threat to the rest of the world. Continued surveillance remains a prudent and essential measure.
Major (Retd) Chris Klein, England

Now people can start to realise just how dangerous President Bush is. He's making threats against China, just when people were hoping the Cold War was over, so what is his problem? An American spy plane was snooping near China's "airspace" and was bought down. Diplomatic talks would be helpful, but I hope Dubya is kept away from nuclear buttons.
Mike W, UK

To paraphrase a great British statesman, governments have no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
T.J. Cassidy, USA

Eavesdropping on China by the USA is absolutely justified and would be warmly welcomed by most democracies in the region. China has expansionist designs in all of Asia and has been responsible for instability in the region, all the way from the borders of larger regional democracies such as India to militarily weaker democracies such as Taiwan. US eavesdropping in this context is not only justified, but is regionally popular.
Rahul Mahajan, UK

All part of the game I should imagine

Phil D, UK
I have no doubt that governments of all countries can justify spying in terms of national security and I am prepared to accept that it will always happen, even between so-called friendly nations. What annoys me is the way that nations grumble when they get caught out. I am no greater friend of China than the US but I'm afraid given that a US spy plane landed in Chinese territory after straying into their airspace they must accept the loss. All part of the game I should imagine.
Phil D, UK

The US now considers itself to be the only remaining Superpower. Because of this we can fly our warplanes anywhere; overthrow or assassinate foreign leaders our leaders dislike; enact an embargo such as we see on Iraq which can kill a million children while the rest of the world looks on as silent, mute spectators. If any nation dares to oppose or confront these policies we can either soon silence them by closing our markets to them or use our veto in the greatest tool of control ever created in history, the United Nations.
Stephen B, USA

Of course it is right to try to obtain information about another country's intentions towards one's own. What gets me is when Governments eavesdrop on their own citizens on the off-chance that they might be planning something illegal (cf GCHQ, currently the biggest building programme in Europe).
Edward, UK

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See also:

03 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China defies US on spy plane
03 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Inside the US spy plane
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