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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes quizzed
The war of words between China and the US over the fate of the American spy plane continues to escalate.
China has renewed its demand for a US apology over the incident, while the Americans are pressing for the immediate release of the aircraft and its crew.
The US is reportedly considering several options to put pressure on the Chinese. These include withdrawing some diplomats from China, or even cancelling President Bush's planned trip to Beijing.
But how would these measures play in China? How is the situation being seen from there? Is there room for manoeuvre?
Our Beijing correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, joined us for a forum to answer your questions on this escalating row.
To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:
I think China is using these legal arguments to put further pressure on the United States to get the demands that it wants and it's demands are basically an apology and a admission of responsibility for this incident.
I don't think China has any interest in blowing this issue up further. Putting these people on trial would do enormous damage to US-China relations. It would cause a major rupture between the two countries and I don't think China at the moment is interested in that at all.
I think we will see a resolution of this incident in the coming days, but China is still wanting to put further pressure on the United States by using these sorts of legal arguments.
We understand from the Americans, that they have monitored in recent months a number of interceptions by the Chinese military of US surveillance flights and that during these interceptions, the Chinese jet fighters have got very, very close to the American planes. They are saying that there has been a noticeable increase in the aggressiveness of the Chinese airforce in intercepting these surveillance flights.
These are very normal things that go on in international relations. During the Cold War it was very common for the Russians to fly surveillance flights along the coast of the UK and the RAF would go up and intercept the Russian planes in the same way. So this is a very normal practice.
What appears to have happened here we really don't know. But what appears, at least on the surface, to have happened is that this interception went wrong. A pilot on one side or the other made a serious mistake, the two planes collided and it has caused this crisis. But I don't think it is a deliberate act of trying to bring the US plane down.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry today has been asked this very question - why not allow international observers or the US to take part in this investigation? They would not give a straight answer on this and one can only think that the Chinese Government doesn't have a great deal of interest at the moment in seeing a thorough investigation of this incident.
I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier - this is a political argument between the US and China. I don't think that when it comes down to it they are interested in getting down to the nitty-gritty of who was right and wrong. They are interested in making a political statement - trying to get the US to back down and trying to get their demands - which go a little bit beyond just wanting an apology from the United States.
I think the Chinese want to make a point that they don't like the way that the US is behaving towards them. They don't like these flights that are seen by the Chinese as being very provocative and they want to make a real point about it.
But China is basically saying they were carrying out routine monitoring, shadowing the American aircraft when the American pilot suddenly veered into the path of the Chinese plane. Now that, they say, is a reckless act and caused this tragedy of losing the Chinese pilot, losing the Chinese plane and then the US having to make this emergency landing. I am not sure that they are really saying that this was a deliberate act.
As for the rest of world applying pressure to China. Well, different countries have different priorities here. You will see that the UK has actually come out and supported the United States' position. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, has come out and said that China should return these airmen and very much supporting the American position. This is not surprising - the UK and US are very close allies.
But many other countries have expressed support for China. Countries in the Middle East, countries in South East Asia have come out and said this is a sign of the way that America behaves towards other countries. It always wants to monitor them, it wants to spy on them and America has really caused this incident. So there has been support and arguments on both sides.
But, I think there is genuinely anger and concern. After all, they feel that they are the victims here largely. It is a Chinese airman who is missing, presumed dead - he is a man who has a wife and six year-old child. These are quite emotive issues. If it was the other way round and it was a missing US airman, one can suspect that people in the US would be very upset about it.
As regards planned, public demonstrations - as far as we know - no. There have been some sporadic demonstrations outside the US Embassy but there is a huge police presence outside the US Embassy here in Beijing.
It appears at the moment that while the Chinese Government's rhetoric over this is quite strong, they do not want this to turn into something like 1999 for example when there were huge demonstrations outside the US Embassy after the bombing of Beijing's Embassy in Belgrade.
On Sunday after it happened and on Monday, the second day after it happened, the US came out very strongly and said you must release our crew - this is an accident, we are not going to admit fault - we are not wrong. I think in China that was perceived as being arrogant and unsympathetic - after all a Chinese has been lost and I think they felt that it was just completely undiplomatic - the US Government should have shown some sympathy and some regret for this incident. Also that it should have been done quietly behind the scenes - perhaps a phone call from President Bush, or perhaps even somebody not so senior. But at least quietly contacting the Chinese and saying - look how should we deal with this, we don't want this to get out of control.
Instead the US Government has come out and made very strong demands of China and I think that is one reason why China has decided to dig in its heels and say - no, we are not going to release this crew until we get a proper apology and an admission of responsibility.
Does China monitor the United States in the same way? I think not. This is mainly because the Chinese airforce at the moment simply doesn't have that sort of capability to go long range across the Pacific to fly close to American territory. It simply doesn't have those sort of aircraft - although I think if it did, it probably would.
The information the Chinese people get to form their opinions does still largely come from state-controlled media. State-controlled media is very much the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party still.
If we look at this incident, over the first few days there was very little information put out in the state media and there was very little reaction from ordinary Chinese people - most people didn't know what was going on. But in the last two days there has been a lot of information in the Chinese media and we have seen likewise a response from Chinese public opinion - people on the streets getting more angry, expressing concern about this. So I think it has a very important role.
Are there ways Chinese people can get hold of information - I think there are. In the last ten years Chinese people have started to gain access to other forms of information. The internet has had a profound impact on the ability of people to get information in China. This week we have seen that with this crisis going onto internet chat-rooms in China and onto websites.
There has been a huge amount of exchange of information between people on this issue. There has been all sorts of discussion going on; both technical and political about this incident. There have been quite a wide range of views being expressed - on the one hand, very nationalistic, anti-American views, to people saying - well we shouldn't believe everything we hear from the government.
Having said that, I think that there is a great deal of evidence to show that Jiang Zemin definitely does want his protégé, Vice President Hu Jintao, to be the next leader in China.
The leadership succession is coming up in about eighteen months - at the end of 2002. All of China's top leaders are now jockeying for position to get their chosen people into power at that leadership meeting.
I think Jiang Zemin also has to placate the military - he wants to stay on as the head of China's central military commission - a very important part of the government in China - after he steps down as president. He therefore cannot be seen at the moment as being soft on a military issue. China's military has lost a pilot, Jiang Zemin has to act tough and act in defence of military interests.
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