- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the U.S. government is still negotiating with China to get back the damaged EP-3E surveillance plane now held on Hainan island.
Beijing, meanwhile, said the United States would not be allowed to repair the plane in China and fly it off Hainan island.
"The assessment team was on the island," Mr. Rumsfeld said during a press conference to announce a Pentagon reorganization of space policy.
"They were given sufficient cooperation so that they could make a full assessment," he said. "They came back and they have reported to the contractor and the manufacturer of the aircraft."
The team has reached some conclusions about how to repair the aircraft and the information has been provided to the State Department.
The issue is now being handled by diplomats who "will now go back and discuss that with the Peoples Republic of China, I presume through the Foreign Ministry, and it is in that channel at the present time," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush will allow the discussions to continue "so we can get the plane back." He noted that the easiest way to do so would be to "let it fly."
"And if the plane is judged capable of flying, then well just continue the talks with China, and hopefully thatll get resolved somewhat soon," he told reporters at the White House.
Defense officials said the Chinese, still angry at continued U.S. surveillance flights, are balking at allowing a U.S. military aircraft to fly into Hainan island with parts to repair the aircraft.
In Beijing, an official Foreign Ministry statement said the aircraft would not be allowed to fly out of the country once it is repaired.
"The Chinese side has several times stated clearly in relevant Sino-U.S. negotiations that it is impossible for the U.S. EP-3 plane to fly back to the U.S.," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi.
"The U.S. side should take a pragmatic and constructive attitude so that the issue on handling the U.S. plane could be properly settled," he said.
"We are interested in the fastest return of the airplane," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "We think that is in Chinas interest as well as ours."
The Chinese statement came a day after the Pentagon resumed aerial reconnaissance flights off Chinas coast.
A U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft on Monday carried out the electronic surveillance flight, flying out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
No Chinese jets interfered with the flight.
It was the first reported surveillance flight by a U.S. military aircraft since the April 1 collision between the EP-3E and a Chinese F-8 fighter.
The Chinese pilot was killed in the collision and 24 American service members were held captive for 11 days after making an emergency landing on Hainan island.
Defense officials said the easiest option for getting the aircraft back is to repair it where it is sitting on Lingshui air base on the southern part of the island located off Chinas southern coast in the South China Sea.
Another option is to remove the aircrafts wings and load it aboard a C-5 transport jet or possibly a commercial charter, such as a Boeing 747 cargo jet or even a foreign-owned Russian-made Il-76 jet. The plane could also be transported by ship or barge.
The Chinese government is insisting that the aircraft not be allowed to depart "by means of flight," according to the Foreign Ministry statement, made public by the official Xinhua new agency yesterday. No reason was given.
Pentagon officials say the Chinese may view flying the EP-3E off Hainan as an infringement of their sovereignty, an issue on which Beijing is increasingly sensitive. Some analysts believe the Chinese want to add the difficulty of dismantling the aircraft and shipping it out in pieces as part of its pressure campaign to try to halt all U.S. surveillance flights.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon is reviewing more military-exchange programs with China to see if they produce mutual benefits.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it would cancel the yearlong program of exchanges, including ship and officer visits. Then it abruptly reversed the decision and said exchanges would be approved on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Rumsfeld denied there is any confusion within the administration on the issue.
"There is, to my knowledge, no confusion," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary explained that he wanted to review the exchange program "to assure that they were truly reciprocal."
Critics of the program have said the Chinese have exploited the exchanges to learn advanced war-fighting techniques. U.S. military visitors to China during some visits were only allowed to see outdated Chinese defense sites, as part of Beijings strategy of playing down its military capabilities.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the program was suspended after the Chinese held 24 Americans from the EP-3E.
"At that time, I felt with the crew members being held on the island, that it would be not appropriate for U.S. ships or U.S. aircraft to visit China and stopped them," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Also, social contacts with the Chinese also were curtailed "given the situation; that it really wasnt business as usual," he said.
"And I have been handling the military-to-military contacts on a case-by-case basis," he said.
Later, the secretarys staff "came up and indicated that there were a variety of things taking place that didnt fit under the military-to-military or social contacts and they needed to be reviewed as well, and we are reviewing those also on a case-by-case basis," Mr. Rumsfeld said.


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