US officials have planned to fly in to China on April 30 to inspect the US Navy surveillance plane that had been spying on China and detained in a southern Chinese island for a month after a collision with a chasing Chinese fighter jet.
Five US officials will be leaving on a commercial airline and are scheduled to start inspections of the damaged spy plane on coming Friday, US sources said. The two countries were in a tense diplomatic standoff over the mid-air collision that occurred April 1 when a US EP-3 Navy surveillance aircraft, on a US Pentagon-called "routine surveillance" mission over the South China Sea, collided with a Chinese fighter jet.
Tang Jiaxuan, Chinese foreign minister now traveling in Moscow, confirmed that China would allow US officials to inspect the damaged surveillance plane stranded on Hainan Island. A statement read on China's CCTV said the US had "agreed to consider making a payment to the Chinese."
US Vice President Dick Cheney called China's lately decision to allow US access to the plane "constructive," but said the US would not pay China compensation for the collision itself. "Any payment would relate simply to the cost of actual recovery," Cheney said. "That is to say if we have to get a barge in, get a crane in, whatever is required by way of actually bring the airplane out. That's something we're prepared to pay for."
Computer Smashed Before Plane Touched Ground
"The Chinese have already learned all they're going to learn about it," said John Pike, director of the Global Security Organization. "At this point getting the airplane back is mainly about diplomacy, not about learning intelligence secrets or protecting them."
According to the plane's crew, as they headed for a Chinese airfield, during their emergency landing in the morning of April 1, they smashed computers and threw classified manuals into the sea. One former defense official says the damage to the US was limited.
"The intelligence loss, while not trivial, is probably not huge," said Walter Slocombe, former secretary of defense.
US officials say the plane will probably never be flown again and shipping it out of China by sea is the most likely option.
(China Daily 04/30/2001)