- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

A U.S. reconnaissance plane has flown south along Chinas coast for the first time since the April 1 aerial collision, while Chinese warplanes shadowed a reconnaissance flight off the northern coast but kept their distance.
"We did fly south a couple of days ago," one defense official said of the RC-135 flight. The RC-135 is a militarized Boeing 707 airliner backed with electronic eavesdropping equipment.
In a separate incident, a Chinese Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft repeatedly flew over a U.S. surveillance ship operating in international waters, said Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The aerial shadowing off northern China occurred within the past two weeks. Chinese F-6 jet fighters, versions of the Russian MiG-19, monitored an EP-3E surveillance flight some 70 miles off Chinas northern coast, Pentagon officials told The Washington Times.
One official said the incident technically is not being viewed as a Chinese "intercept" because of the distance. This official said the closest the Chinese jet came to the EP-3E was some 60 miles away, apparently to avoid a repeat of the April 1 collision.
"We call it a reaction," said one official.
A second official said the recent encounter between the F-6 and the EP-3E involved a distance of 20 miles between the two aircraft. It is not known if the Chinese jet was armed.
In past encounters, Chinese F-8 jets were armed with short-range air-to-air missiles and cannon.
A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii declined to comment.
It was the first time Chinese jets had shadowed a EP-3E flight since the April 1 collision.
The surveillance aircraft was operating out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, and its route was limited to coastal areas of China north of Taiwan, the officials said. Two F-6s followed the EP-3E as it made its electronic eavesdropping run.
The longer-distance aerial shadowing was in marked contrast to what officials termed "aggressive" and dangerous Chinese jet intercepts during the past several months, culminating with the April 1 collision near Hainan island.
During the April 1 incident, an F-8 jet flew within 20 feet of the EP-3E and during one maneuver hit the U.S. aircrafts propeller with its tail. The pilot was killed after his F-8 broke apart. The U.S. aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Hainan island, where the 24 crew members were held for 12 days.
The damaged EP-3E is still on the ground and the United States and China are negotiating for its release. China is prohibiting the United States from repairing the aircraft and flying it off the South China Sea island. The Pentagon insists the least expensive and most practical way to get the plane back is to repair it and fly it to Guam.
Regarding the naval incident, officials said the U.S. ocean surveillance ship USS Bowditch was harassed by a Chinese Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft that buzzed the surveillance ship at least 10 times. The Y-8 is a four-engine propeller aircraft based on the design of the Russian An-12 aircraft.
"We had an escort in the area," one official said.
A U.S. Navy Aegis-equipped guided missile ship was escorting the Bowditch at the time of the harassment. The Bowditch was conducting electronic surveillance similar to the activities of the EP-3E and RC-135 intelligence-gathering flights. The Pentagon insists such monitoring is legal.
Chinas military claims such naval surveillance is not permitted within 200 miles of Chinas coast, an area Beijing is claiming as sovereign territory. The United States only accepts the internationally recognized 12-mile nautical limit.
A Chinese research vessel that the Pentagon suspects is engaged in counter-surveillance of the Bowditch has been following Navy ships in waters near the Yellow Sea, the officials said.
The Bowditchs encounter with the Y-8 aircraft is the second incident of Chinese harassment.
In late March, shortly before the April 1 collision of the EP-3E and F-8, the Bowditch was threatened by a Chinese warship in international waters and forced to move out of a 200-mile economic exclusion zone that China is claiming as its territory. During the April encounter, the Chinese warship pointed the fire-control radar of its guns on the Bowditch and ordered it to leave the area.
A Pentagon official said the U.S.-China standoff involving the Bowditch was "still going on" yesterday.
The Beijing government is demanding an end of all U.S. military surveillance of China since the April 1 collision.
The communist government has launched a major propaganda campaign against the military surveillance. The state-run news media denounced the surveillance activities as U.S. "hegemonism."
The United States has refused to end the surveillance of China, defending the flights and other monitoring as part of a broad regional security strategy to maintain security in the region and to support U.S. allies.
The Bush administration is expected to announce in the next several weeks its new military strategy, which will call for shifting the focus of U.S. defense and international security efforts from Europe to Asia, based on the rise of China.
China is building up both its conventional and strategic nuclear forces as part of a long-term modernization program. Under development by Beijing are two new road-mobile nuclear missiles, the DF-31 and DF-41, a new class of ballistic missile submarines equipped with a submarine-launched version of the DF-31 and a new class of attack submarines. Beijings conventional force developments include the acquisition of Russian guided-missile destroyers, four Kilo-class submarines, and advanced Su-27 and Su-30 fighter bombers.
Chinas military also is said to be working secretly on advanced high-technology weapons, including information warfare capabilities.


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