- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

China will allow Americans to inspect the downed Navy surveillance plane it has held for nearly a month, U.S. and Chinese officials disclosed yesterday.
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Vice President Richard B. Cheney called the move "very positive." He said it was an "encouraging sign" China intends to return the disabled U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance plane, which was forced to land on Hainan island in South China after a collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet on April 1. China detained the 24 U.S. crew members for 12 days, sparking an international incident.
"As weve said all along, we do want our aircraft back, " Mr. Cheney said.
An American inspection team was en route to China today to inspect the surveillance plane, the French news agency Agence France-Presse reported.
"They are en route and in the air on the way to Honolulu now, and so it will be tomorrow probably at the earliest (that they will arrive)," U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher told journalists in Beijing.
Mr. Prueher said it had not been decided if the inspection team would go directly to southern Hainan island, where the EP-3E surveillance aircraft has been held since the collision, or to Beijing for briefings.
Chinas decision to allow the U.S. inspection was announced yesterday by Chinas state-run news organization, the Xinhua News Agency.
Xinhua also said the United States has agreed to consider paying China for unspecified expenses connected to the disabled plane.
However, both Mr. Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card insisted compensation will be limited to any help China provides in removing the plane.
Mr. Cheney said the aircraft is "not flyable," and he detailed its damage.
"The nose is gone from it, all of the instruments dont work, two of the engines are out somebodys going to have to go in and load it on something and transport it out, probably a barge or something, " he said on Fox.
Mr. Card, in an interview on CBS "Face the Nation," said its likely a crane will be needed to lift the plane. Asked if there have been any talks about compensating the family of the Chinese pilot who was killed in the collision, Mr. Card said, "There have been no talks about that at all."
On ABC's "This Week," he said there will be "no compensation (for China) for holding our aircraft."
The collision occurred in international airspace and, according to U.S. officials, was caused by reckless, aggressive flying by the Chinese pilot, Wang Wei. But China continues to insist the Americans were responsible for the crash and has not said if it would return the plane.
Mr. Card, on CBS, called Chinas decision to allow U.S. personnel to inspect the plane a "constructive development."
U.S. negotiators sought such inspection rights during talks in Beijing on April 18 and 19.
"Having completed its investigation and evidence collection involving the U.S. plane and in view of international precedents in handling such issues, the Chinese side has decided to allow the U.S. side to inspect its plane at the Lingshui Airport," the Xinhua News Agency said yesterday.
The American inspection team will try to ascertain what intelligence secrets the Chinese may have learned during the four weeks the plane has been on the ground in their country.
Asked how much the Chinese have learned, Mr. Cheney said on Fox: "We dont know… . I would assume they got something."
He said he believes the crew managed to destroy or dispose of "a lot of the really sensitive stuff, things like software," which were aboard the EP-3E.
"Certainly, the hardwares left, even though a lot of it was destroyed by the crew en route," said the vice president.
U.S. officials hope that Chinas decision to let Americans inspect the EP-3E signals an easing of strained relations between the two powers.
In addition to Chinas concerns about the United States flying surveillance missions near the Chinese coastline, the communist country objects to the U.S. decision last week to sell high-tech weapons to Taiwan to help defend itself against an attack by mainland China.
Chinese officials also were angered by a public pledge by President Bush to do whatever is necessary—including using military force—to defend Taiwan from an attack by Beijing.
On talk shows yesterday, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Card reinforced Mr. Bushs tough stand on a possible U.S. military response.
"Were very serious about defending Taiwan," Mr. Cheney said on Fox.
Mr. Card said on ABC: "Its important that the United States live up to its obligations to help Taiwan defend itself. And thats what the president reiterated. I think it was a very noble statement that the president made. It was consistent with American policy. And it was the right thing to do in the context of China and Taiwan."


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