US And China to Face off over Hainan Spy Plane Incident
A team of US negotiators arrived in Beijing Tuesday to press for the return of a surveillance plane that made an emergency landing in Chinese territory, as Beijing renewed its demand that Americans end spy missions near its coast.
The delegation headed by US deputy undersecretary of defense Peter Verga arrived at the US Embassy in Beijing Tuesday afternoon for the Wednesday talks with Chinese officials on the April 1 collision between the US plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
No timeframe has been set for the talks, but the first round of negotiations is not expected to last for more than two days.
"The US should stop sending airplanes to conduct reconnaissance activities in areas near the Chinese coast and take measures so as to avoid similar incidents in the future," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told journalists.
Verga's counterpart in the surprisingly low-level talks would be Lu Shumin, director general of the foreign ministry's department of North American and Oceania affairs, she said.
Zhang reiterated Beijing's position that the United States was "fully responsible" for the April 1 mid-air collision with the Chinese F-8 fighter, resulting in the death of the Chinese pilot and the "unauthorized" emergency landing of the US plane.
"It is our hope that the US side will take a constructive attitude in negotiations so as to ensure the proper settlement of the question," she said.
Responding to US demands that the high-tech spy plane be returned to the US, Zhang reiterated the right of the Chinese government to hold "full investigations" into the US plane, while indicating the fate of the plane would be decided after the investigations were completed.
Earlier in Washington, the US side said it would "ask tough questions about the manner in which the Chinese have been intercepting our aircraft in the area and also to state our position about the EP-3 plane that needs to be returned," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"Twenty-four American lives were put at risk as a result of the manner in which this accident took place and it is a cause of concern."
The United States last week said it was sorry for the death of the Chinese pilot Wang Wei and the US plane's unauthorized landing on China's Hainan Island.
The expression of sorrow resulted in Beijing's release of the 24-member crew of the surveillance plane.
The Pentagon stopped the surveillance flights after the collision. Fleischer said Bush was awaiting a recommendation from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on whether and when to resume them.
The White House spokesman emphasized that the US has a right to fly such missions, and regards them as critical for keeping the peace in the region.
Zhang reiterated Beijing's position that the flights "represented threats to China's national security," and referred to vague language in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding a 200-mile (320-kilometre) exclusive economic zones surrounding a nation's coastal waters.
She downplayed reports in China's official press that have referred to the United States as a "powerful enemy," but slammed US officials that blamed the Chinese pilot for the collision as making "irresponsible remarks".
"China has always attached importance to the development of its relations with the United States, it is our view that the development of friendly relations of cooperation with the United States serve the interests of both sides," she said.
Both nations have made heros out of their pilots, with China saying the US spy plane "rammed into and destroyed" the Chinese plane, while Washington has accused the Chinese pilot of reckless behavior.
"We have made quite clear that we think that a productive meeting can set the basis for our further relationship," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington Monday.
"On the other hand, a polemical meeting would give us some indication of how they might or might not intend to proceed with the relationship."
Wu Guoguang, an expert on US-China relations at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he expected "marathon talks" between the two sides that could easily spill over into other bilateral issues such as human rights and US military sales to Taiwan.
"I anticipate a rough road ahead for negotiators on both sides in the short-term, while as time goes on both sides risk the event of other issues complicating the issue," he said – BEIJING (AFP)
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