Powell expresses regret, but China wants apology
publiziert: Mittwoch, 4. Apr 2001 / 21:47 Uhr

Washington - Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday expressed Washington's "regret" over China's loss of a plane and missing pilot, but he did not offer an apology for the collision between U.S. and Chinese military planes.

The remarks came in a day of verbal duelling between China and the United States over the fate of 24 crew members and a high technology reconnaissance plane stranded after an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

China insists the mid-air collision in international airspace over the South China Sea on Sunday was the fault of the U.S. Navy plane, and is demanding an apology before it considers releasing the crew.

But in an interview with CNN broadcaster on Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador to Washington, Yang Jiechi, carefully sidestepped making a guarantee that even if an apology were forthcoming, then China would release the crew and the plane. He did however indicate that an expression of "regret" was not enough to gain their release.

Yang reiterated comments made by officials in Beijing, including President Jiang Zemin, that it was up to the U.S. to apologize.

Powell's expression of "regret" reinforced his comments on Tuesday, when he said the apparent loss of life was unfortunate and regrettable. The Chinese pilot apparently parachuted out of his plunging plane, but has not yet been found.

The Bush administration claims no apology is necessary for what it terms an accident that occurred in international airspace.

But Yang said the offense went beyond the collision and included the U.S. pilot's actions afterwards.

"The U.S. side ... made a sudden turn of the airplane ... and then it intruded into Chinese air space ... and landed at a Chinese airfield," Yang said. "This is a very serious incident."

The U.S. Navy pilot was being saluted as a hero by Pentagon officials on Wednesday for regaining control of the EP-3 electronic surveillance propeller craft after it dropped about 2,600 metres within five minutes after the collision.

The pilot managed to land in Hainan despite damaged wing flaps and air speed indicator.

In Washington, Ambassador Yang was summoned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage later Wednesday. Powell said the U.S. wants to establish a "dialogue" with China so that both sides may "exchange explanations".

U.S. ambassador Joseph Prueher was summoned Wednesday to a meeting with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing, the highest-level contact so far with Chinese officials since Sunday.

Prueher and U.S. officials in Washington are "exploring avenues by which we can get a dialogue going that will allow both sides to present explanations", Powell told reporters at the State Department.

It was the first indication during the four-day diplomatic stand-off that either side was looking for a way out.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that an apology for the mid-air collision would not be forthcoming from the administration.

"The incident occurred over international airspace. We do not understand any reason to apologize. The United States did nothing wrong," said Fleischer.

He said President George W. Bush had discussed the China standoff "at length" Wednesday morning in several meetings with his senior advisors, National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice and Powell. Bush was having an afternoon meeting with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Powell said: "We need to bring this to a resolution and we're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations and move on." He did not elaborate on what diplomatic avenues the U.S. side might be using.

On Tuesday, Bush threatened that there would be long-term damage in Sino-American relations if the crew and plane were not released. Chinese officials called his remarks "arrogant". The White House is considering calling off a planned visit to Beijing by U.S. President George Bush in connection with the incident, U.S. administration sources told U.S. media.

In Wednesday's meeting with U.S. Ambassador Prueher, China's Foreign Minister Tang said the U.S. had "displayed an arrogant air, used lame arguments, confused right and wrong, and made groundless accusations against China", China's official news agency Xinhua reported.

The slow diplomacy appears to reflect China's intention to wait for the outcome of its investigation of the incident and its search for the missing pilot before it decides what to do with the crew and the plane.

"China has not completed its investigation of the collision ... but agreed to let U.S. diplomats meet the U.S. crew members in a humanitarian spirit", Xinhua said.

In addition to concern about welfare of the crew, the fate of the high technology plane was also of major concern to defence officials, who told CNN broadcaster that the crew managed to destroy some of the sensitive information and equipment on board before the emergency landing. They had about 15 minutes after the pilot regained control of the plane and before it landed in Hainan.

(kil/dpa)

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