- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

The United States will take a hard line against China in talks beginning tomorrow, telling the communist country that U.S. surveillance flights will soon resume and insisting on the return of a Navy plane damaged when a Chinese jet slammed into it over international waters.
An eight-member U.S. delegation, which left Washington yesterday for Beijing, also plans to "ask tough questions to the Chinese about the manner in which they have dangerously intercepted United States reconnaissance flights," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
"It is dangerous to operate in that manner. And for the safety of not only our American crews but for the Chinese crews involved, it is important that tough questions be asked," he said.
While Mr. Fleischer said during a press briefing his comments "did not give any indication" whether Chinese officials would be told reconnaissance missions will resume, a senior Bush official confirmed that U.S. representatives would deliver precisely that message.
The spokesman, however, said President Bush is awaiting a recommendation from Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on resumption of surveillance flights off the coast of China.
The Chinese are expected to demand an end to the flights, which typically take place 50 miles or more offshore in international airspace.
The United States has four primary issues on its agenda for the meeting, one of which is "to make the case that plane is United States property and the United States would like to have the plane returned," Mr. Fleischer said.
The other three agenda items, he said, are: providing a "clear understanding to the Chinese about the cause of the accident from our point of view"; discussing how air accidents can be avoided in the future; and asking "tough questions" about Chinese behavior while intercepting U.S. surveillance flights. The American representatives also will make clear the U.S. position that the Navy EP-3E reconnaissance missions adhere to international law.
"The United States will always reserve the right to operate over international waters and international airspace to protect the needs of our neighbors, to promote regional stability and secure peace; which is why our nation, and many other nations, fly reconnaissance missions, " Mr. Fleischer said.
"And so long as these flights are over international waters and in international airspace, theyre in accord with international law."
The State Department, meanwhile, said the United States will not negotiate on U.S. reconnaissance missions.
"The flying of these flights is an important part of our national security," said spokesman Richard Boucher. "Its an important part of stability in Asia. Its a decision that we make, where to fly, as long as were in international airspace, when to fly, as long as were in international airspace, and that we will continue to make those decisions on our own."
The U.S.-China meeting comes as Mr. Bush mulls whether to provide ships with sophisticated anti-missile radar to Taiwan. The president is bound by U.S. law to provide the island nation, which China views as a renegade province, with the means to defend itself.
The talks in Beijing are expected to take "a couple of days," Mr. Boucher said. They are taking place in Beijing because of "the insistence of the Chinese government," Mr. Fleischer said.
The U.S. delegation will be led by Peter Verga, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy support. Mr. Verga is known in the Pentagon as a quiet troubleshooter who has been involved in sensitive negotiations in the past with Australia over joint defense cooperation.
The State Department is sending James Keith, director of the office of China affairs, and James Moriarty, a political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
The U.S. military will be represented by Rear Adm. Steven Smith, Pacific Commands director for plans and policy; Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the military attache in Beijing; Navy Capt. Phil Greene, regional director for China and Asia Pacific on the Joint Staff; Capt. John Orem, a pilot and EP-3E requirements officer in the Navys air warfare division; and Navy Cmdr. Raul Pedrozo, a specialist in ocean policy.
China has pledged to take a nonconfrontational tone during the meeting, although Pentagon officials told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that they have the opposite expectation.
"We have heard from the Chinese that they intend to take a non-polemical and straightforward approach to this meeting," said Mr. Boucher, the State Department spokesman. "We look to the Chinese to address these issues with us in a straight manner, not in an accusatory manner, not in a shrill manner."
Meanwhile, House Republicans are continuing their efforts to block normal trade relations with China, despite release of the detainees.
A spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and lead sponsor of legislation banning permanent normal trade status, said this most recent incident shows China is not deserving of the status.
"This is a snapshot of a larger picture, and that is hard-liners continue to control China, " said Michael Harrison, Mr. Hunters spokesman.
Rep. Thomas G. Tancredo, Colorado Republican and co-sponsor of the measure, said a number of his colleagues are rethinking their positions on trade. In spite of consistent annual support of favorable trade status granted by Congress, "things have gotten worse," Mr. Tancredo said. "So the message we should get is that we must have been doing something wrong."
China detained 24 Navy crew members for 12 days after their plane made an emergency landing on Hainan island in the South China Sea. The U.S. plane was severely damaged after a Chinese fighter slammed into it while trying to perform a maneuver known as "thumping, " in which the jet slips in front of the EP-3E and rattles it with jet exhaust.
The EP-3E pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, said over the weekend that the Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, approached within 3 to 5 feet twice and clipped the $80 million planes propeller on the third pass. The Chinese jet quickly disintegrated as the badly damaged American plane plunged 8,000 feet in a roll before Lt. Osborn could regain control.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government yesterday restated its claim that the unarmed U.S. plane caused the April 1 crash by ramming Mr. Wangs plane.
President Jiang Zemin declared Mr. Wang a "Guardian of the Air and Sea," and called on the Chinese to emulate his dedication to the communist state.
Already declared a "revolutionary martyr," Mr. Wang was described by Mr. Jiang as an "outstanding representative of the new generation of revolutionary soldiers," the governments Chinese Central Television reported.
* Audrey Hudson and Bill Gertz contributed to this article.

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