- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

HAIKOU, China On the hot, rainy streets of Haikou, near the military guesthouse where the 24-member crew of the American surveillance plane were to spend their last night in China, the people smelled a rat.
Mr. Li, a shopkeeper, stabbed a finger at a Chinese government communique giving Beijing's view of the American letter.
The document declared that President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, felt "sincere regret" over the death of a Chinese fighter pilot and were "very sorry to the Chinese people and the family of the pilot, Wang Wei." They were also "very sorry the American plane entered Chinese airspace and landed without verbal clearance."
Ticking off items as a crowd of onlookers nodded agreement, Mr. Li said: "Sincere regret, that's not an apology. And this 'very sorry' they have not used the word 'apology,' which would show they were taking responsibility. This is all double meanings. None of these terms is straightforward."
The crowd in the small shop was unanimous: The Americans being held at the Southern Fleet Air Force No. 1 Military Guesthouse should not be allowed to go.
"This problem has not been properly resolved," said Mr. Li. "Once the crew are released, we have no leverage over the Americans. In our hearts, we are very upset. The Chinese pilot hasn't even been found yet."
Passers-by gathered to shout their opinions, paying no heed to uniformed and plainclothes police nearby.
"This 'very sorry', it's like they bumped someone on the street," one man said.
Another said: "Only a formal apology will do. They should put the American pilot on trial. If he has broken the law, let him go to jail."
One man complained that this was not the first time Chinese leaders had promised an American apology and then settled for less.
"It was just like this in 1999, after they bombed our embassy in Yugoslavia," he said.
The day began with similar anger as morning paper headlines claimed that Mr. Powell had already "said sorry."
It did not take long to realize that propaganda chiefs were playing with language as they chose how to translate the word "sorry" into Chinese, a language with a dozen different forms of apology.
Closer inspection revealed that the story was a rehashing of a statement three days ago, with key phrases translated more positively. It seemed that China was trying to manufacture something resembling an apology to prepare the public for an imminent deal.
"The ladder is being built for China to climb down," said one Western diplomat.
Mr. Powell's original comments were made on Sunday, when he said he was sorry that the pilot of the F-8 fighter had died in a midair collision with the surveillance plane over the South China Sea.
China's strictly controlled media had already reported the comments, but initially translated them using the word "yihan," which can interpreted as dismissive.
But in yesterday's editions of Hainan Daily, Beijing Morning Post and Beijing Youth Daily, there was a new translation in to the term "bao qian."
In Mandarin "bao qian" means sorry, but does not necessarily admit fault. China had originally demanded that America must agree to the stronger term "dao qian," which admits guilt.
When the American letter was published last night, diplomats had chosen a third translation, rendering "very sorry" as "shen biao qian yi," a strong apology but not necessarily an admission of fault.
A second-year student at Hainan University said: "They are using the differences between the English and Chinese languages, and they shouldn't."
He said students were "really angry," and would "rise up" if the crew were allowed to go before America had apologized properly.
But public opinion counts for only so much in China. Hainan University authorities and campus security agents had already suppressed the few hints of protest. Communist student-union leaders quickly tore down handwritten posters which appeared last week.

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