- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

U.S. and Chinese military officials will meet next month to discuss ways to avoid maritime incidents such as the recent collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and Chinese jet.
"We view this meeting as an important step in working past the EP-3 incident," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.
The meeting will be the first held under the auspices of the 1998 U.S.-Chinese military maritime consultative agreement since the collision April 1 between an American EP-3E surveillance aircraft and a Chinese F-8 interceptor, Cmdr. Davis said.
"It will provide a proper forum for both sides to discuss the important issue of future incidents," Cmdr. Davis said.
The meeting will be held Sept. 13 and 14 on the Pacific island of Guam, he said.
The U.S. delegation to the talks will be led by Rear Adm. Stephen Smith, chief of operations for the U.S. Pacific Command. The Chinese delegation leader will be a two-star officer but has not been identified by name yet, Cmdr. Davis said.
"The objective of the meeting is to discuss principles of safe flight and navigation activities conducted on the high seas, in international airspace and in exclusive economic zones," Cmdr. Davis said.
China charged the U.S. aircraft with violating its airspace by flying within a 200-mile "economic exclusion zone" extending from China's coast that Beijing claims as sovereign territory.
The Pentagon said the flight was carried out in international airspace and was legal under international law, which does not recognize 200-mile exclusion-zone claims, by China or anyone else.
The incident touched off a confrontation between the Bush administration and communist China, which insisted the United States halt all surveillance flights of Chinese territory.
Surveillance flights, by EP-3s and by RC-135 jets, were halted for several weeks but resumed in May. The aircraft gather signals intelligence from Chinese radio and other electronic communications.
Military contacts between United States and China also were cut off temporarily and now are conducted on a limited basis.
According to the Pentagon, the Chinese aircraft flew dangerously close to the EP-3E and hit one of its propeller-driven engines with its tail during one pass.
The Chinese pilot died after his plane crashed into the South China Sea. The EP-3E crew made an emergency landing at a military base on nearby Hainan island.
The 24 American crew members were held captive on the island for 12 days before being released.
China then demanded the United States pay $1 million to cover the costs of the emergency landing. The Chinese were offered a payment of about $34,000 but turned it down as insufficient.
China also refused to let the U.S. military repair the aircraft and fly it off the island. The Pentagon was forced to send a team of contractors to cut up the aircraft and load it aboard a Russian-made transport jet.
The military maritime agreement was signed in January 1998 by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. There have been two meetings since, one in 1998 and another last year.


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