Issues Remain After
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Winning the release of the 24
Americans was President Bush's priority. But sticky U.S.-China issues are
still unresolved, including the fate of the Navy spy plane and China's
insistence that the American military stop flying reconnaissance missions
near its coast.
"This is not over," Secretary of State Colin
Powell said Wednesday in Paris. "Some discussions will begin, and we
still have our plane there. But this will all unfold in the days and weeks
The next step is a meeting of U.S. and Chinese officials
next Wednesday to discuss responsibility for the Navy plane's collision
with a Chinese fighter jet. The officials will also get into ways of
preventing future incidents, the question of returning the damaged plane
and China's objections to the flights.
Hovering over it all is an
issue of even greater importance to the Chinese: whether Bush will agree
to Taiwan's request to buy U.S. Navy destroyers equipped with advanced
Aegis radar systems. That decision, which had been in the works before the
April 1 collision, is expected to come late this month and could well have
a more profound effect on U.S.-China relations than the plane incident.
China is determined to reunite Taiwan with the mainland, and it
sees U.S. arms sales as an affront to Chinese sovereignty. In a similar
vein, China objects to U.S. reconnaissance flights along its coastline
because they provide intelligence on military activities across the narrow
waterway from Taiwan.
The U.S. military has been collecting
intelligence in that area for decades, and Vice President Dick Cheney made
clear on Wednesday that the Bush administration has no intention of
"With the respect to the right of the United States to
continue to operate our aircraft in international airspace, that really is
a given. That is not a subject that we would want to concede on," Cheney
The administration also wants the electronic
surveillance plane returned, even if the Chinese have stripped it of the
sensitive equipment used to eavesdrop on the Chinese military.
China appears in no hurry to give it back. China's deputy U.N.
ambassador Shen Guofang said Wednesday there would be "further
investigation" of the aircraft to consider "legal aspects" of the
The United States has maintained that the Navy EP-3E Aries
II plane was about 60 miles from Hainan Island - well beyond the 12-mile
limit of China's territorial waters - when it collided with a Chinese
fighter jet, whose pilot ejected and apparently perished.
asserts that the U.S. plane turned into its fighter and violated
international law by landing on Hainan without first gaining China's
permission. U.S. officials say the plane was landed on the island only as
an emergency measure.
In a letter Wednesday that provided the
basis for China's agreement to release the air crew, U.S. ambassador
Joseph Prueher made clear that next week's meeting would include
discussion of future flights.
"We acknowledge your government's
intention to raise U.S. reconnaissance missions near China in the
meeting," Prueher wrote.
Although the Bush administration
expressed regret for the loss of the Chinese pilot and said it was "very
sorry" the U.S. plane entered China's airspace without permission, it
said it would not offer the full apology China had demanded. The choice of
words was important not just in the present case but possibly also for the
In the view of some, an apology would have amounted to a
concession that eavesdropping on China was wrong, thus legitimizing
China's demand that the United States halt reconnaissance flights.
That was a concern in 1970 after a U.S. pilotless reconnaissance
plane went down on Hainan island. Anticipating the possibility that China
would demand an apology, State Department official Harry Thayer wrote in a
recently declassified memorandum that apologizing would set a bad
"An apology in this case might also lead the Chinese
to press us to take the next step of foreswearing such acts for the
future," Thayer wrote.
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