- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

China yesterday refused to allow American technicians to turn on power to the damaged U.S. surveillance plane and questioned President Bushs decision to suspend military contacts with China that do not enhance Sino-U.S. relations.
The Chinese gave no explanation for the refusal. The technicians need to power up the plane in order to check its hydraulics, electronics and other systems before determining whether it can fly. The plane has been sitting on the tarmac of a Chinese military base on Hainan island since April 1, following its collision with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea.
"There was the expectation that power was to be provided," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, Pentagon spokesman.
The snag came as Mr. Bush confirmed a planned pullback of U.S. ties with the Chinese military, which was first announced Wednesday by the Pentagon.
"Were going to review all opportunities to interface with the Chinese," Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday. "And if it enhances our relationship, it might make sense. If its a useless exercise, and it doesnt make the relationship any better, then we wont do that."
The presidents comments came after the Defense Department initially announced it would suspend all military ties with China, only to backpedal the same day and announce the case-by-case policy.
"Weve only been in office for 104 days. Weve got to review all policy that we inherited," Mr. Bush said. "But what the Chinese must understand is that well be firm in our philosophy, consistent in our beliefs, and we want to work to have a relationship that is a positive relationship for both countries."
China made a point yesterday of emphasizing the importance of military ties with the United States. The overture marked a shift in tone from Beijing, which refused to release the U.S. surveillance planes 24 crew members for 12 days after the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island.
"China-U.S. military-to-military ties are an important component of the bilateral relationship," a Foreign Ministry official told Reuters news agency in Beijing. "Military-to-military exchanges have always been two-way and based on equality and consultation."
Adm. Quigley said the five American technicians need another day to complete their inspection of the plane, but little headway can be made without powering up the plane. He said the team hoped "to clearly explain the technical support we need" by today.
Chinas recalcitrance signaled that Beijing is still angry about the death of the Chinese fighter pilot in the collision. Although the Bush administration all but openly apologized for the collision in order to free the American crew members, Chinese leaders might be able to assuage hard-liners within the military by dragging their feet when it comes to returning the plane.
At the same time, the Bush administration does not want to roil Beijing any more than necessary.
"We are trying to calibrate our response to this incident in a very, very careful way to make sure we dont cut off our nose to spite our face, and I think we have done rather well," Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Capitol Hill. Mr. Powell said "we will get past this" plane episode. However, he added: "We should have no illusions about the nature of the regime that exists in Beijing."
He said that the administration has "taken no position" on whether the United States should try to block Beijing from hosting the 2008 Olympic Games. Many in Congress want to punish China for detaining the 24 American crew members by passing legislation urging the International Olympic Committee not to hold the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The U.S. technicians on Hainan island were not allowed to bring their own satellite-telephone system into China. That means the team must use Chinese phones, which can be monitored, Adm. Quigley said.
The technicians are from Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the EP-3E surveillance plane. They spent about four hours inspecting the plane on Wednesday, but have not yet been able to determine whether it can be flown out of China. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the plane might have to be shipped off the island.
The technicians have not been completely idle. They were able to inspect the exterior of the plane and take photographs. The collision broke off the planes nose cone and battered the propellers.


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