- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

The Bush administration stepped up pressure on China yesterday, warning Beijing that continuing to hold the crew of a downed U.S. military aircraft captive is damaging relations.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney repeated U.S. "regrets" for the loss of a Chinese pilot and said the United States has nothing to apologize for.
"It's important to recognize that every day that goes by without resolution of this does lead to the possible risk lasting damage, if you will to the relationship between the United States and China," Mr. Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Mr. Cheney would not say what penalties would be imposed on China for its failure to release the 24 detained Americans who made an emergency landing in southern China aboard a damaged EP-3E surveillance aircraft that collided with an intercepting Chinese F-8 jet over international waters.
Pressures on the Bush administration intensified, too. Mr. Cheney insisted that the 24 American crewmen are not hostages, as Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said on Saturday they were. He said they're "detainees." When he was asked about an editorial in the Weekly Standard, suggesting that the incident had the making of a "national humiliation" for the United States, Mr. Cheney snapped that the editorial was an attempt to "sell magazines." He called the editorial "disreputable." Secretary of State Colin Powell, on another television program, called the editorial "absurd."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said he too regards the crewmen as "detainees," but not for long. "In two or three days, I'm going to call them hostages… . We're getting precariously close to that."
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said China could become an adversary. "The incidents that we are going through right now … is probably one of many for the future," Mr. Shelby said. "We have to look at China realistically. A lot of people haven't." Mr. Shelby has been a critic of U.S. intelligence for its overly benign analysis of China.
On the southern Chinese island of Haikou, where the Americans are being held, the top U.S. military officer in China, Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, said U.S. officials were "hopeful" China would today begin granting daily access to the crew.
"This morning, our desire remains the same. Our request is for unfettered access to the crew on a daily basis and, in fact, twice a day," he told reporters.
"Our purpose for that is to continue to monitor the treatment of the crew and to continue to observe what has taken place. We're hopeful for that to take place today and every day following."
In Beijing, the official military newspaper, Liberation Army Daily, repeated a demand that the United States halt all surveillance flights over Chinese territory.
"China has the right to fully and thoroughly investigate this entire incident, including the American military aircraft and the people in charge of it," the newspaper said. "The U.S. government should … immediately stop all military surveillance activities off the Chinese coast."
Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian early today added his voice to the Chinese leaders demanding an apology.
"The U.S. should apologize to the Chinese people and take effective measures to avoid another similar matter from happening," said Gen. Chi, who is also vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the Communist Party organ that controls the Chinese military. His comments were reported in today's editions of the official party newspaper, People's Daily.
Mr. Cheney said the United States is willing to discuss the flights, but that "in terms of our right to be there … that's a given and we will continue to operate as appropriate."
In a sign that negotiations are continuing at high levels, U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher met privately yesterday with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in the latest round of diplomatic meetings to end the impasse.
U.S. diplomats met with eight crewmen yesterday, although Brig. Gen. Sealock had asked to see all 24.
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that it "isn't helpful" that Gen. Sealock's request to meet with the entire crew was rejected.
Mr. Powell repeated U.S. "regrets" and used the word "sorry" to describe his feelings over the loss of the Chinese pilot. He made it clear once more that the United States would not accept responsibility for the incident and "therefore won't apologize for that."
A senior administration official said yesterday's television talk show appearances by senior national security officials was meant as a signal to Beijing. "The message is: There is a closing window for the Chinese to still salvage this," the official said. "But they could have done it right away by releasing the crew."
Several congressional delegations scheduled to visit China were canceled Saturday to protest, and congressional aides said legislation punishing Beijing is likely to follow if the impasse is not resolved.
Mr. Powell, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," declined to say how the administration would punish China but said "whatever price the Chinese ultimately pay, they are making it worse in terms of delaying this situation."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Powell said the administration wants China to realize that "we do regret the loss of their pilot and plane." He expressed "regret" for the U.S. plane's emergency landing on the southern Chinese island that "violated their airspace." He urged Beijing to "look at the emergency circumstances that the pilot was facing."
Nevertheless, U.S.-China relations were being hurt by the incident. "The relationship is being damaged," Mr. Powell said. "The damage can be undone. But in order for the damage to be undone and no further damage to occur, we have got to bring this matter to a close as soon as possible."
The United States has a trade deficit with China estimated at more than $80 billion, and some members of Congress have called for the imposition of trade sanctions to act as leverage. Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political strategist, said last week that trade sanctions against Beijing were not being considered "at this point."
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has written a letter to the wife of the lost pilot, Wang Wei. The letter from the president to Ruan Guoqin is being sent as a humanitarian gesture, U.S. officials said. Mrs. Ruan wrote that the president was "too cowardly" to apologize.
Mr. Powell said the reply was meant to respond to a "widow who is grieving. Whatever you think about the politics of it, she's lost her husband."
Miss Rice said the president's letter was not a shift in U.S. policy. "The president is taking the high ground here, and he is simply responding to the expression of grief, and nothing else," she said. The administration had offered China "a way to have a discussion about the facts."
Other U.S. officials said the administration is proposing to convene a meeting under a 1998 U.S.-China agreement on military maritime incidents.
Mr. Powell said the United States still supports China's bid to join the World Trade Organization, but another congressional vote on normal trade relations status with that country might not pass. Congress approved permanent normal trade status for China last year, despite its arms sales to rogue states and its continuing poor record on human rights.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong newspaper reported last night that a Chinese F-8 pilot that shadowed the EP-3E asked for permission to shoot down the unarmed surveillance plane.
F-8 pilot Zhao Yu was told by ground controllers not to take any action against the U.S. military aircraft, the South China Morning Post quoted unidentified "Chinese sources" in Beijing as saying.
"The officials at ground control were cool-headed," the newspaper quoted one source as saying. "Zhao could have shot the plane down but that would have meant the death of 24 U.S. airmen. It would have been an act of war, whereas the collision was an accident."
China's official media continued to criticize the United States. The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that people throughout China continued "to angrily condemn the hegemonist action of a U.S. military reconnaissance plane."

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