U.S. Protests Access to Spy Plane |
BEIJING (April 2) -- The U.S. ambassador to China said Monday
that American officials were being denied contact with the crew of a
U.S. Navy surveillance plane more than a day after an in-flight collision
forced it to land in China.
American officials sought to
keep the Chinese from boarding the aircraft, insisting they had no right
to do so. There was no indication whether Chinese experts were trying to
examine the EP-3's sophisticated monitoring equipment.
American diplomats flew to Hainan island and were making their way to an
air base where the EP-3 plane landed Sunday after colliding with a Chinese
fighter jet in international airspace, said Ambassador Joseph Prueher.
China says the fighter crashed and that a search was under way for its
In Washington, U.S. officials said the United States is
keeping three Navy destroyers in the vicinity of Hainan island instead of
continuing their journey home from the Persian Gulf. President Bush
discussed the incident Monday with his national security team.
Chinese leaders appeared to be still trying to decide on a
response. The government issued no new information after a statement
Sunday blaming the collision on the American pilot. The U.S. ambassador
complained that top officials weren't involved in diplomatic contacts.
``It is inexplicable and unacceptable and of grave concern to the
most senior leaders in the United States government that the air crew has
been held incommunicado for over 32 hours. The Chinese so far have given
us no explanation for holding this crew,'' Prueher said at a news
A U.S. military spokesman in Hawaii, Army Lt. Col.
Stephen Barger, refused to say whether the crew was supposed to destroy
their equipment to keep it from falling into foreign hands.
U.S. plane was standing empty at the military airfield where it landed in
the town of Lingshui, said a Chinese sailor contacted by telephone at an
adjacent naval facility.
The crew has been moved to a military
guesthouse, said the sailor, who refused to give his name.
U.S. military says the plane was on a routine surveillance flight when two
Chinese F-8 fighters intercepted it Sunday morning. The EP-3 collided with
one of the fighters about 60 miles southeast of Hainan.
unarmed propeller-driven EP-3 took off from the Kadena Air Base in
Okinawa, Japan. It carried a crew of 22 Navy personnel, one Air Force
officer and one Marine.
The EP-3 is about the size of a Boeing 737
commercial jetliner and can monitor radio, radar, telephone, e-mail and
fax traffic, according to defense experts.
Military experts say
such U.S. flights to monitor China's military are routine. Confrontations
have been reported in the past.
On March 23, a Chinese warship
intercepted a U.S. Navy survey vessel in the Yellow Sea, said an American
military official. The USS Bowditch was outside Chinese territorial waters
but inside the area regarded by China as its exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese vessel followed the Bowditch until it left that area,
said the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
China has accused the pilot of the EP-3 of intruding into Chinese
airspace by landing without permission after the collision. However, a
U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing insisted the pilot followed ``commonly
accepted principles of international law'' for an emergency landing.
Chinese officials say the crew is safe, according to U.S.
officials. They say Washington has asked China to help with repairs and
return the crew as quickly as possible.
The incident comes at an
uneasy time in relations between Washington and Beijing. China has been
cool to the Bush administration's more cautious approach to relations. It
warned that ties could suffer over the announcement expected this month of
new arms sales to Taiwan, the island China considers its own territory.
Washington also has protested China's recent detention of two
scholars with links to the United States.
expressed anger and outrage at the collision Sunday. Few doubted the
official explanation blaming the U.S. pilot. Discussion forums on Web
sites were filled with demands to seize the American plane and jail the
Public anger may have been increased by the failure of state
media to report on a U.S. offer to help look for the missing Chinese
pilot. Some complained that the U.S. government was more concerned with
its uninjured plane crew than a missing Chinese.
``We won this
battle. Even though we lost a fighter jet and its pilot is missing, we
have 24 war prisoners and a surveillance plane fully equipped with the
most advanced radar and electronic equipment,'' said a message on the Web
site Sina.com signed ``East Don't.''
Adm. Dennis Blair, commander
in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, rejected the Chinese account blaming
the American pilot. Blair said the faster, more nimble Chinese plane
bumped into the larger, slower American aircraft.
Hainan government offices and the Lingshui military airport refused to
comment, saying they had been ordered not to give information to
At least six reporters for Hong Kong and foreign news
organizations who traveled to Lingshui were detained by police and
soldiers and ordered out of the area.
Prueher said tensions would
mount the longer the crew are held incommunicado.
potential if we do not resolve this well is fairly high because it can
bleed over into some other areas,'' he said.
Sunday in Hawaii, criticized what he called previous unsafe intercepts of
American planes by Chinese fighters. He said the U.S. military had
protested such behavior before the incident Sunday.
``It's not a
normal practice to play bumper-cars in the air,'' Blair said.
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