US Spy Plane Crew Enter Ninth Day in Captivity as Tension Mounts
The crew of a US spy plane spent their ninth day in captivity in southern China Monday as pressure mounted for a solution to the stand-off before it causes irreparable damage to Sino-US relations.
After US diplomats on the island of Hainan tried and failed to secure a new meeting with the 24 crew, US leaders in Washington sounded impatient and warned Beijing the dragging crisis must be brought to a speedy end.
A US embassy spokesman in Beijing said efforts to resolve the crisis were "ongoing" and the two sides have been working on the delicate wording of a joint statement aimed at providing a face-saving way out.
However, in public the two sides are sticking steadfastly to their entrenched positions.
China wants an apology for the April 1 collision between the E-P3 Aries surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet, which led the US plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan and the Chinese jet to crash into the sea.
While the United States has expressed "regret" over the presumed death of the Chinese pilot it has firmly ruled out an apology, a stance reiterated by US Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday.
"We had every right to be in international airspace, and that's really not an issue here," Cheney said.
As murmurings from conservative Republicans over the US administration's perceived weakness during the crisis grew louder, US officials talked tougher.
"The longer this goes on without resolution, clearly the more difficult it becomes to manage the relationship and avoid risk to the long-term relationship with China," said Cheney.
But so far the Chinese have shown no signs of softening their strident claims that the US plane caused the collision by ramming one of two Chinese jets shadowing its movements and then intruded illegally into Chinese airspace.
"The US side is fully responsible for the incident and should apologize to the Chinese people," an editorial by the official Xinhua news agency said Monday.
The team of US diplomats pushing for access to the crew in the Hainan capital Haikou has also met with mixed fortunes and have held just three meetings with the 21 men and three women since the crisis erupted.
On Sunday US military attache Brigadier General Neal Sealock asked for twice daily visits, but received no reply. Saturday he was kept on tenterhooks all day waiting for a planned meeting which eventually took place at 1:00 a.m.
Sealock said Monday he would continue pushing for more meetings with the crew and that he had more e-mails from family members to deliver.
"Our real desire of course if for the immediate release of the crew. We are working very hard towards that," he added.
A US embassy spokesman later said they had been informed by the Chinese authorities there would be a fourth meeting with the crew on Monday evening.
Meanwhile a report in the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong said the collision around 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the coast of Hainan could have led to the shooting down of the US plane.
The paper, quoting Chinese sources, said the pilot of the second plane shadowing the EP-3 requested permission to open fire after his comrade crashed into the sea.
It said permission was refused and that he then maneuvered to force the US plane to land at Lingshui airbase on Hainan.
"The officials at ground control were cool headed," one source told the paper. "It would have been an act of war, whereas the collision was an accident." -- HAIKOU, China (AFP)
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