China sought US understanding Wednesday for its refusal to allow US Navy spy plane to fly home, saying public sentiment would be outraged if the aircraft flew again over Chinese territory.
Deputy Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said the Chinese public was outraged both by the resumption of US surveillance flights near China and by US suggestions that the spy plane be flown back from the Chinese military base where it landed after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet on April 1.
``If we allow such a military plane which had a mission of spying on China to be flown back from a Chinese military airfield, that would further hurt the dignity and sentiments of the Chinese people,'' said Li. It would be ``the cause of strong indignation and opposition from the Chinese people.''
``This is the reason for what we are doing,'' said Li, who accompanied Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Hong Kong where he is attending the Fortune Global Forum.
Beijing hopes the US side will take a ``pragmatic and reasonable attitude'' and negotiate the return of the damaged spy plane, ``maybe by boat, for example,'' he said in an interview.
Li, former Chinese ambassador to the United States, said Beijing was intent on seeking cooperation and friendship with Americans for the ``sake of our common interests.''
Li's comments followed a meeting earlier Wednesday between Jiang and former US President Bill Clinton.
Clinton did not bring any formal message for Jiang and met with him in a private capacity, said Clinton's spokesman, P.J. Crowley.
The collision last month of the US Navy spy plane and the Chinese fighter jet, whose pilot apparently died in the crash, was an added irritant in ties already strained by differences over human rights, Taiwan and other issues.
The EP-3E Aries II aircraft has sat on a military runway on the southern Chinese island of Hainan since making an emergency landing.
China announced on Tuesday its refusal to allow the plane to return by air. Li's comments appeared to be an appeal for US understanding of Beijing's position.
9China daily 05/09/2001)