- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The Bush administration pressed ahead with diplomatic efforts to free 24 Americans held by the Chinese military as both sides appeared privately to soften their positions.
"We are already getting signals that [the Chinese] are ready to get moving on this," said Karl Rove, President Bush's top political strategist.
Privately, Bush administration officials said they were optimistic the crisis from Sunday's collision over the South China Sea between a U.S. EP-3E surveillance aircraft and a Chinese F-8 fighter jet will be resolved in the next few days and U.S. officials speaking early this morning in China echoed that optimism.
Despite the diplomatic flurry, both countries stood fast by their opposing positions in public China demanding an apology, Mr. Bush refusing to offer one.
Meanwhile, signs emerged of differences over China policy between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is in charge of the effort to win the service members' release.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who harbors a more hawkish view toward China than does the more centrist Mr. Powell, is said to have privately criticized the White House's soft tone toward Beijing, according to a well-placed defense source.
"Rumsfeld is worn out by the diplomats, all the statements of 'regret' and wants to stop the patty-cakes," the defense source said. "He and Powell are very much at odds over this."
The defense secretary, who has said he does not view China as a strategic partner, has been virtually silent since the crisis began Sunday. He issued a brief written statement Wednesday, conciliatory toward Beijing, after reporters Tuesday asked his spokesman for the secretary's views on the crisis.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush expressed "regret" over the incident for the first time since the collision, which downed the Chinese jet and is presumed to have killed its pilot.
"I regret that a Chinese pilot is missing and I regret one of their airplanes is lost," Mr. Bush said, repeating earlier requests that the 24 military service members "need to come home."
Asked at a speech in Washington to U.S. journalists whether any circumstances would lead him to offer an apology to the Chinese, and whether he is reconsidering his trip to China in October, Mr. Bush said: "I have no further comments on this subject."
Administration spokesmen have said there would be no U.S. apology for the incident that occurred in international airspace.
In Hainan's capital, Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the U.S. Embassy defense attache, confirmed that high-level talks aimed at gaining the crew's release were under way.
"We are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to see the crew again," he said this morning, local time, in Haikou.
Adm. Joseph Prueher, the U.S. ambassador to China, was asked upon his arrival today at the embassy whether he had spoken to the plane's crew.
"We're working on that and expect to do so today," he said.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin said in Santiago, Chile, yesterday that the aircraft crew was safe.
"The airplane is in the airport in the province of Hainan and the 24 crew members are safe and sound," Mr. Jiang said during the first stop of a six-nation tour of Latin America.
In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi, said U.S. statements about the incident were positive.
"The U.S. expression of regret is a step in the right direction by the U.S. side," Mr. Sun told a news conference. However, he said that "the U.S. has made a mistake and should first apologize."
The diplomacy in Washington is being led by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, known as a tough negotiator who had served as an assistant defense secretary for international security affairs.
Mr. Armitage is talking to Chinese Ambassador Yang Jiechi here, and Adm. Prueher in Beijing is meeting with Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong.
According to administration officials, the diplomacy is focusing on U.S. demands that the crew be released and less on China's demands for an apology and an end to surveillance flights.
"We're talking about what we want to talk about, which is release," said a senior government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The president said efforts are being made through "all diplomatic channels" to resolve the matter.
"The message to the Chinese is, we should not let this incident destabilize relations," Mr. Bush told the editors. "Our relationship with China is very important. But they need to realize that it's time for our people to be home."
"The Chinese have got to act," said Mr. Bush. "I hope they do so quickly."
Mr. Rove told The Washington Times in an interview that if the Americans are not returned soon, the president is willing to take other action against the Chinese.
"There are options available and the president will take those steps as he sees necessary," Mr. Rove said, without elaborating.
Asked specifically whether the administration was readying trade sanctions if the impasse continues, Mr. Rove said, "Not at this point."
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley also appeared to avoid any statements that could derail the sensitive talks.
"I don't think anybody's to the advantage to be too shrill in their comments at this point," Adm. Quigley told reporters at the Pentagon. "This is a time for diplomacy to find the way ahead, and I don't recall the last time shrill comments contributed to diplomacy."
The 24 American service members have been held in detention at a military base on Hainan Island since Sunday, after their damaged aircraft made an emergency landing.
Adm. Quigley said the crew has been questioned by the Chinese as part of an investigation in to what he termed "an accident" but there is no indication the crew members are being subjected to hostile interrogations.
China's government has said it is investigating the collision and blames the American crew for the crash of the F-8.
U.S. officials identified the Chinese pilot as Wang Wei.
Pentagon officials confirmed press reports that Mr. Wang was known to U.S. intelligence as an aggressive interceptor pilot who had come dangerously close to surveillance aircraft during past encounters in the region.
Press reports in China praised Mr. Wang as an "outstanding squadron leader" with excellent grades in flight school.
"Our valiant and heroic fighter pilot," the China Women's News described the pilot in a caption alongside a photo of him standing in the cockpit of a plane.
"This pilot … even flew next to our pilots and showed them his e-mail address, to show you what kind of a hot-dog pilot he was," said Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
A senior administration official explained that Mr. Bush's patience in dealing with the crisis is limited.
"The Chinese have got to understand that the people who will be hurt by this are their own. There's no good that will come from this for them," said the official.
As for the impact of the incident on U.S.-China relations, the official said Mr. Bush "is a clear-eyed realist looking at this relationship. He's looked at the broad picture and understands what the regime is capable of."
China's official Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, showed no sign of backing down and in an editorial Wednesday accused the United States of using "the gangster logic of hegemonism."
Using a Chinese proverb to make a veiled reference to military force, the newspaper said China welcomed friends but noted that "if a wolf comes, we have hunting guns to cope with it." The paper then mentioned China's involvement in the Korean War.
"The present urgent task is for the U.S. side to make a sincere, earnest apology to the Chinese people and compensate for their losses," the editorial said.
Adm. Quigley said there are no clear answers to how the collision occurred and whether the Chinese or U.S. aircraft was at fault.
However, the one-star admiral said that in some cases in recent months "we felt that the Chinese fighter aircraft that came out to intercept our surveillance and reconnaissance flights got too close, and we let the Chinese know that in communications with them."
Adm. Quigley said China is one of several nations that conducts reconnaissance flights, but not as far from its shores as the United States.
"They don't have the exact same system of bases and the same models of airplane and whatnot," he said. "Their flights tend to stay closer to their coast."
He also said the Pentagon has not suspended its military exchange program with China although no meetings or visits are planned soon.
"The program past the end of May is under review," he said. "But it has not been suspended, the program before the end of May."
Rowan Scarborough and Donald Lambro contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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