SCMP Wednesday, May 9, 2001


Spy plane cannot fly out of Hainan: Spokesman

SCMP.com, GREG TORODE in Washington and AGENCIES

Updated at 3.51pm:
The US EP-3 surveillance plane held on the mainland will not be allowed to fly off Hainan Island, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told media on Tuesday "The Chinese side has several times stated clearly in relevant Sino-US negotiations that it is impossible for the U.S. EP-3 plane to fly back to the US from Hainan Island.
"The US side should take a pragmatic and constructive attitude so that the issue on handling the US plane could be properly settled."
Responding to yesterday's announcement in Washington that it had resumed spy plane flights off the Chinese coast, Mr Sun said Beijing's opposition to the flights was ''consistent and clear''.
He urged the U.S. side to ''draw a lesson [from the recent incident] and correct such wrong-doings".
An RC-135 reconnaissance plane from Kadena air base on the Japanese island of Okinawa flew a routine track along the northern portion of China's coastline, a US defence official said yesterday.
It was the first surveillance flight near China's coast by the US since one of its EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance planes and a Chinese F-8 fighter jet collided near Hainan Island on April 1.
The RC-135, a jet aircraft used routinely for surveillance flights off China's coast, drew no response from the Chinese military, the official said. No Chinese fighters intercepted the plane, which completed its mission yesterday and returned to base.
Chinese sources said a formal protest over the flight was being considered as part of Beijing's bid to end coastal surveillance.
"We believe this sort of activity was a root cause of the unfortunate collision last month," one official at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said. "The US side is very well aware of our very strong concerns and yet now we hear reports they are starting these flights again. We must urge them to desist."
An official at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the resumption.
Wang Wei, the Chinese pilot of the F-8, was lost in the collision and the 24 American crew members of the EP-3 were held on Hainan for 11 days.
The American surveillance plane was badly damaged in the incident and officials say the Chinese probably harvested valuable intelligence from it, although the crew apparently managed to destroy the most sensitive information.
The collision heightened tensions between the US and China. Both sides agreed to hold discussions on how to avoid similar incidents in a US-China commission on military maritime safety but the meeting has been postponed.
The Chinese sources yesterday insisted Beijing was keen to create the forum for fresh talks but acknowledged no date had been set.
Yesterday's RC-135 mission was not escorted by US fighter jets, the US defence official said. Such escorts are not normally used but some members of the US administration have raised the possibility in light of concerns that China would resist further flights.
The RC-135 is a four-engine jet on the frame of a Boeing 707. It is equipped to collect electronic signals and monitors Chinese military communications and activities. It operates with a crew of up to 27 people, including three pilots, two navigators, three electronic warfare officers and 14 intelligence operators.
Chinese fighters frequently intercept US surveillance flights off China's coast, although they are more common, and more aggressive, on the more southerly routes flown by the EP-3.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday he believed China would allow the US to get its EP-3 back and it appeared the plane could be repaired sufficiently on Hainan to fly out.
A US defence official said yesterday the Lockheed Martin technicians who inspected the plane last week determined that it could be repaired, but that it probably would take several days.

US President George W. Bush is expected to make the final decision on whether to press China for permission to repair it.

Mr Rumsfeld also said on Sunday that he accepted the blame for confusion over a Pentagon memo that mistakenly called for the suspension of all US military contacts with China. "There's no question that I made a mistake," he said. "To the extent there's any fault, it's certainly as much mine as anyone else's and I'm in charge."

Hours after the memo was leaked and reported worldwide, a spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld said it was a mistake and that an aide had misinterpreted it.

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday Mr Bush believed a "productive and fruitful relationship with China" was possible. But she added: "Clearly, the way the Chinese handle the fact we have a plane on the ground will have an effect on how we see relations."