- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Chinese President Jiang Zemin yesterday reiterated his demand for a full apology for the collision of a U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese jet fighter, saying China's position was "sufficiently clear," but seemed to offer the first softening of the Chinese position at a news conference in Uruguay.
"Taking into account the important role of the two countries, we have to find an adequate solution," Mr. Jiang said. "I trust in the ability of both countries to resolve this issue."
President Bush called the 10-day-old hostage incident a "stalemate" and shrugged off the Rev. Jesse Jackson's offer to negotiate the release of 24 Americans, who are now getting a few more creature comforts in captivity.
"Diplomacy sometimes takes a little longer than people would like," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "This administration is doing everything we can to end the stalemate in an efficient way."
Analysts view Mr. Jiang's tour of South America as one reason for the lull in U.S.-China negotiations. As head of state and Communist Party general secretary, his presence is likely required in China before the incident can be resolved.
Yesterday, a senior administration official said the stalemate is the result of the U.S. proposal "working its way through the Chinese decision-making system."
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration has presented China's foreign ministry with a "road map" designed to end the impasse.
But it is hard to gauge where in China's communist system U.S. proposals are. "We are still working through the Chinese Foreign Ministry, but I can't judge what the Foreign Ministry is doing with its leadership," the official said.
U.S. diplomats held their fifth meeting with the crew members, who are virtual prisoners in the officers' quarters of a military base on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
The 21 men and three women have been held against their will since making an emergency landing of their surveillance plane after colliding with a Chinese F-8 interceptor March 31.
A new poll shows that most Americans consider the crew hostages, despite the administration's insistence they are "detainees." Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, Pentagon spokesman, yesterday argued the word "hostages" should be used only if the crew is mistreated and denied visits by U.S. officials.
"You don't have access to hostages; they are kept from you," Adm. Quigley said. "And in the case of our air crew, we have had several five now meetings with the air crew over a period of days. We think that's great."
He added: "You also don't see hostages generally treated very well. And our 24 air crew are being treated very well by the Chinese. So the term that we think is important is 'detainees.' "
The crew has been given printouts of e-mail messages from family and allowed to relay verbal replies through the U.S. officials during visits. The crew can exercise and move about their building with more freedom than before.
Thus, Adm. Quigley said, they are not prisoners because when "I think of a prisoner, I think of somebody behind bars. I think of someone charged with a crime. Those circumstances are not present."
The administration spent much of yesterday reacting to Mr. Jackson's offer to negotiate the release of the Americans. The civil rights leader has freed Americans from Cuba, Syria and Yugoslavia.
Mr. Jackson's re-emergence on the international stage allows him to distance himself from scandals that have plagued him in recent months. His stature took a beating when it was revealed he had a mistress and an out-of-wedlock child.
The Washington Times first contacted Mr. Jackson's office Thursday and asked whether he was thinking about wading into the hostage standoff.
"I don't think that he's given it all too much thought because he's been, you know, entrenched in his own matters," spokeswoman Keiana Peyton said after conferring with Mr. Jackson. "He's just kind of, at this point, open to whatever."
But the next morning, Mr. Jackson left a phone message for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who did not return his call. Yesterday, he called another top black member of the administration's national security team, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who did return the call.
"The secretary expressed his thanks for Mr. Jackson's concern, told him about the intensive diplomacy that's going on and said we would continue to use that channel," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "There's no plan to use Mr. Jackson as a mediator or special envoy on this issue."
Mr. Jackson is apparently not the only freelancer who is offering to help. Fox News Channel reported yesterday that former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot is working behind the scenes to find an end to the impasse.
According to sources close to the Chinese Embassy, China's state-run media are reporting that remarks by Mr. Powell expressing sorrow for the incident are a blanket apology for the entire affair.
The Chinese government has signaled that if this interpretation of Mr. Powell's remarks is not publicly and directly contradicted by the Bush administration, then the crew will be released before Easter Sunday and before Congress returns from a two-week recess.
The two sides are engaged in a semantic minuet on a possible joint statement that might let both sides claim victory.
"It would be an expression of regret and sorrow that they were not able to [request permission before landing] but it was an in extremis situation," a senior administration official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.
"What the Chinese will choose to characterize as an apology, we would probably choose to characterize as an expression of regret or sorrow."
Pro-China officials in the Bush administration also are using the incident to highlight the need for continued military exchanges with China, a program under review by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The official strategy of the Bush administration so far calls for holding discussions under the 1998 U.S.-China military maritime commission, a senior administration official said.
The commission was set up to avoid mishaps like the EP-3E incident. The agreement calls for annual meetings and for called meetings to handle specific issues.
"The idea is to use the military maritime commission for both sides to discuss what happened in the accident and possibly discuss ways to avoid future accidents," the official said.
Asked if U.S. surveillance flights are open to negotiation with the Chinese, the senior official said: "American reconnaissance activities are part of a broad U.S. national security strategy. We believe it is important to security in the region and those flights are important not just to us but for allies whom we have considerable responsibility to keep peace and security in the region, and we do not believe that that is what is at issue."
The senior administration source also dismissed the notion that careful linguistic phrasing of a statement will resolve the issue.
"We're obviously looking for the right phrase that is responsive to the concerns of both sides," the senior official said. "But the United States' position is and continues to be this is not an issue of 'accepting responsibility' because this was an accident."
The official also said diplomatic efforts are not stalled, although "obviously there's a stalemate in that it hasn't been resolved."
"But we are currently at a stalemate because they have not decided to move forward and there's been no resolution," the official said. "We continue down this road with this road map and we continue discussions with the Chinese and our great desire is to get this over as quickly as possible."
Asked if the Bush team fears the standoff will become a repeat of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, the senior official said: "We are not concerned about anything except the fact that it is really time to bring this situation to a resolution.
"There is no doubt that the longer that this goes on, the more damaging it's going to be to U.S.-China relations."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide