US Plane "Caused Collision"

China has "plenty of evidence" that an American EP-3 spy plane caused the April 1 mid-air collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter, an incident which sparked an 11-day diplomatic standoff.

The claim, in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs news release, was released Wednesday after the first day of talks ended between China and the US on the incident.

The so-called evidence put forward by the US side in support of their view that the US spy plane did nothing wrong, as well as recent remarks by the US officials criticizing China for the incident, "do not hold water", Lu Shumin, head of the Chinese delegation, was quoted as saying.

The news release said that the two sides elaborated on their respective positions during yesterday's negotiations, which lasted three hours.

Lu, also general-director of the ministry's Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs, stressed that the US side should bear full responsibility, make clear explanations to the Chinese people, stop surveillance activities near China's coast and take effective measures to prevent a reoccurrence of the incident.

The US side reportedly brought up the issue of the EP-3 aircraft, requesting the prompt return of the US$80 million plane which has been on China's Hainan Island, where it landed on April 1 without Chinese permission after the collision.

Neither the US delegation, headed by US Deputy Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy Support Peter F. Verga, nor US Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher made any comment about the negotiations yesterday.

The negotiations were the first between the two countries since the 24 US crew members left Hainan last Thursday. Both countries have called for a "constructive" attitude towards the negotiations.

President George W. Bush had directed the US team to ask "tough questions" about what Washington sees as Chinese "harassment" of its surveillance flights.

But a White House spokesman also stressed that Bush hoped the meeting would be constructive.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said ahead of the talks that the fate of the US plane would be determined "in accordance with the law".

Speaking in Caracas at the end of President Jiang Zemin's 12-day Latin American tour, Zhu also slammed US officials, who have blamed the Chinese pilot for the collision, for making "irresponsible statements, ignoring our requests and confusing falsehoods with truth".

"We are going to demand that the US side gives us an explanation and also that they halt the surveillance flights over Chinese coasts, so that by doing so they stop threatening China's national security," he added.

China and the United States will today continue their negotiations, hoping to seek a settlement to the issue, according to sources with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

But a senior official in Washington, who declined to be identified, said US Ambassador to China, Joseph Prueher, would meet with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials today to determine whether a new round of discussions would be held.

"The ambassador will go in tomorrow morning and tell them what we're going to need for the talks to continue," he said.

Officials in Washington said top Pentagon staff had recommended that spy flights should not resume immediately off China's southern coast, scene of the collision.

US officials insisted yesterday's meeting would have no bearing on Bush's pending decision on whether to sell an advanced ship-mounted missile defence and battle management system to Taiwan.

(chinadaily.com.cn 04/19/2001)


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