- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

China has stopped the aggressive style of intercepting U.S. surveillance planes that led to the collision off its coast last year of a Chinese fighter and a U.S. Navy plane, the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces said yesterday.
"It's been very professional," Gen. William Begert told reporters at a breakfast meeting at the Pentagon.
Gen. Begert, who was visiting from his headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, said the Chinese air force continues to monitor U.S. surveillance operations in the region, but in a less aggressive way.
On April 1, 2001, a Chinese fighter struck a Navy EP-3 spy plane, forcing the EP-3 to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan island. The fighter crashed into the sea, killing the pilot. The 24-member crew of the U.S. plane was detained for 11 days before being released, and the incident prompted the Bush administration to call a virtual halt to military cooperation with China.
Gen. Begert said his command keeps a close eye on information about China's military modernization. He said the modernization campaign was a "matter of concern" but not alarming.
The four-star general also said he would like to return combat aircraft to permanent stationing on the island of Guam, because of its convenient location for crisis operations in the Pacific region.
No combat aircraft are stationed on Guam permanently, although the Air Force has invested heavily in improving Andersen Air Force Base to expand its capacity for storing air munitions and to accommodate combat aircraft in a crisis.
"It's the most capable base the Air Force has with no airplanes," he said.
Gen. Begert said he wishes the Air Force were able to station bombers, air-refueling aircraft and fighters at the base. He also suggested basing there a squadron of Global Hawks, the unmanned, long-range reconnaissance aircraft that is in development.
Gen. Begert, whose area of responsibility stretches from Alaska to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, also said he was encouraged at recent progress in developing closer relations with India's military.
U.S. and Indian air forces are scheduled to conduct a joint exercise in late October in India. Dubbed "Cope India," it will mark the first joint flying exercise with India in at least several years, he said.
"I think it's a breakthrough," he said. "This is very new for us."

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