- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

The U.S. military crew freed from captivity in China returned to a heroes' welcome in Hawaii yesterday while the Bush administration vowed to continue surveillance flights and stepped up efforts to retrieve the damaged plane.

A military C-17 carrying the 24 service members landed at 12:20 p.m. EDT at Hickam Air Force Base, where a marching band greeted them with "God Bless America" and about 200 cheering friends waved flags.

"We're definitely glad to be back," Lt. Shane Osborn, mission commander, told the crowd. "I'd like to thank everybody's support all over."

President Bush told the crew members by telephone from Washington that they "represent the best of American patriotism" and singled out Lt. Osborn for piloting the crippled plane "to an emergency landing that saved 24 lives."

"They did their duty with honor and with great professionalism," Mr. Bush said later in the Rose Garden. "We're proud of our crew, and I am glad that they will be with their families this Easter weekend."

The crew members will complete 26 hours of debriefing today before returning to their base tomorrow at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state.

With the military personnel safely home, Mr. Bush's tone toward the Chinese turned more stern.

He promised that the United States will ask "the tough questions about China's recent practice of challenging United States aircraft operating legally in international airspace" when both sides meet next week.

The president, in his most detailed comments on the incident, said the U.S. aircraft did nothing to trigger the collision.

"China's decision to prevent the return of our crew for 11 days is inconsistent with the kind of relationship we have both said we wish to have," Mr. Bush said. "The kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our two countries."

The administration negotiated the crew's release 12 days after a midair collision between the EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter jet by telling China it was "very sorry" for the presumed death of the Chinese pilot and for the U.S. plane landing on China's Hainan island without permission.

Chinese state-run media claimed victory, portraying the U.S. sentiment as an apology.

China wants an end to surveillance flights off its coast, but Mr. Bush said yesterday the flights will be resumed.

"Reconnaissance flights are a part of a comprehensive national security strategy that helps maintain peace and stability in our world," said the president.

The United States and China are scheduled Wednesday to discuss return of the EP-3E aircraft, which lost its nose cone in the collision, and related issues. Chinese officials indicated yesterday they won't return the plane unless the United States agrees to stop the spy flights.

China's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Shen Guofang said in New York, "We have to make further investigations on the plane and also to have consultation on their further activities along our coastal areas. I'm not sure whether this kind of collision will happen again if they still will carry out spy activities like this."

In the Chinese Foreign Ministry's first remarks since the U.S. crew left China, ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue repeated China's assertion that the incident is "not over."

"China has demanded that the United States stop sending surveillance planes to areas near China's coastal waters," she said.

But Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Beijing must answer for the collision.

"The responsibility for avoiding future accidents rests not just with the United States, it rests heavily with the Chinese and the way that they respond to these flights," Miss Rice said on NBC's "Today."

Military sources have said Chinese fighter pilots engage in a practice called "thumping," in which the fighter jets fly directly underneath a slower turboprop-powered surveillance plane and suddenly dart upward in front of the plane to jostle it with turbulence from their jet engine.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington would renew efforts to recover the EP-3E surveillance plane. It stayed on Hainan island in the South China Sea after its crew was allowed to leave for home yesterday.

As both nations prepared to discuss those issues next week, Mr. Bush also was getting more pressure from members of Congress not to renew permanent normal trade status for China because of the incident.

"This incident calls into question our current policy of sending American trade dollars to a nation that has displayed signs of hostility toward the United States," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who proposed the measure to overturn the trade law.

"The Chinese didn't act in a normal way, so it brings the trade deal under greater scrutiny," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican. "The jury is still out on whether we would approve an extension."

Miss Rice said the administration still wants a productive trade relationship with China.

"I think we all believe that trade with China, the effort to try and build an entrepreneurial class in China, to try to bring some freedom to that society through freer economics, is an important goal," she said on CBS' "The Early Show."

Mr. Bush said the nations face "difficult issues and fundamental disagreements."

"We disagree on important basic issues such as human rights and religious freedom," said Mr. Bush. "We have different values, yet common interests in the world. We agree on the importance of trade and we want to increase prosperity for our citizens.

"Both the United States and China must make a determined choice to have productive relations, to have a productive relationship that will contribute to a more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful world."

Mr. Bush spoke to leaders of several other countries to put pressure on China, including the leaders of France, Brazil, Britain and Canada, a U.S. official said.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who met this week with Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his Latin American tour, received a handwritten thank-you note yesterday from Mr. Bush, which the Brazilian government made public.

Mr. Bush asked aides if he should call Mr. Jiang, but the consensus was no. Miss Rice told the president he could "only play that card once," the U.S. official said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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