China keeps U.S. on hold over plane crew
BEIJING, China -- It may be late Tuesday before the crew of the U.S. Navy spy plane that made an emergency landing in China is allowed to meet with U.S. diplomats.
The U.S. Government is reportedly growing increasingly frustrated over a lack of information from China.
Meanwhile in China, public outrage at a U.S.spy plane flying so close to Chinese territory continues to build with public demonstrations taking place and Chinese Internet chat sites being flooded with anti-U.S. sentiments.
Three U.S. diplomats spent Monday on the Chinese island of Hainan, awaiting a chance to meet there with the crew.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that the U.S. diplomats "may have access late Tuesday night" to the 24 airmen and women.
Chinese authorities boarded the U.S. military aircraft shortly after it made an emergency landing early Sunday following a collision with one of their fighters, a Chinese source said Monday.
The 24-member U.S. crew was taken off the plane and separated. They are being held individually, the Chinese source told CNN, but did not say where or under what conditions.
President Bush described himself as "troubled" by China's response to the incident and called for "immediate access" to the crew. Twice within an hour on Monday, he called for a release of the plane "without any further tampering."
There was no word on the location of the crew, which was last heard from immediately after the plane landed on a Chinese military base Sunday.
"Our priorities are the prompt and safe return of the crew, and the return of the aircraft without further damaging or tampering," Bush said outside the White House, saying the Chinese response has been "inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice" and contrary to a desire for "better relations."
He repeated his call for a return of the plane and crew 40 minutes later during a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "We expect that plane to be returned to us," he said.
Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to China expressed his frustration.
"What is hard for us to understand well and hard for me to explain to Secretary (of State Colin) Powell is the inability to get a phone call through to the aircraft commander or to talk to the crew," said Joseph Prueher, the U.S. ambassador to China. "We are very eager to do that so we can reassure their families. ... those are the norms of international law, and as time goes by that gets to be a worse and worse situation."
Prueher said China has no jurisdiction to either hold the crew, which includes women, or search the plane. (More on U.S. reaction to the boarding.)
"This immunity precludes foreign search, boarding or seizure or detention of the aircraft without U.S. consent," he said in Beijing.
U.S. destroyers staying in region
The three diplomats in Hainan were staying at a resort away from the military base where the U.S. plane landed. Meetings with Chinese officials were not expected until Tuesday morning, local time.
Meanwhile, Pentagon sources said three U.S. destroyers scheduled to return to their home ports will remain in the South China region until further notice.
In Washington, administration officials sought to minimize the diplomatic fallout, choosing their words carefully in describing the situation. Bush met with his top national security advisers Monday to discuss the matter.
He offered U.S. assistance to help the Chinese locate their missing pilot and jet. "Our military stands ready to help," Bush said.
Both sides blame each other
A former U.S. attache to Beijing said Chinese officials must not be short-sighted as they deal with the plane and its crew.
"I hope that Chinese officials would take into account that the future of the relationship is important and that they would allow access to the crew, and ensure that they do not intrude into the airplane," retired Navy Rear Adm. Eric A. McVadon said in an interview with CNN.
There has been some speculation that Beijing might try to keep the high-tech reconnaissance plane.
The Chinese have blamed the United States for the incident and said their fighter crashed into the South China Sea. But U.S. officials said the Chinese fighter bumped into the Navy plane in international airspace and have called for the immediate return of the sophisticated reconnaissance plane and its crew.
The Chinese gave the following account of the incident:
Two Chinese military planes were following the U.S. plane to monitor it. The Chinese planes, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzo said in a statement Sunday, "were flying normally" about 60 miles southeast of Hainan Island, when "the U.S. plane suddenly turned toward the Chinese plane. The head and the left wing of the U.S. plane bumped into one of the Chinese planes, causing it to crash."
A search continued for the Chinese fighter pilot.
Without China's permission, the crippled U.S. propeller-powered plane landed at a Chinese military base on Hainan Island.
Zhu said the United States was to blame for the collision.
But the head of the U.S. Pacific Command appeared to suggest that the Chinese fighter was at fault.
"Chinese fighters intercepted the aircraft and one of them bumped into the wing of the EP-3 aircraft," Adm. Dennis Blair said at a news conference Sunday in Hawaii.
McVadon also called into question the Chinese account.
"I would remind you that as Admiral Blair pointed out, the Chinese intercepts of these routine flights have become more aggressive recently and we had recently protested and said that they were making it dangerous," he said.
"So that of course calls into question just how this came about."
The U.S. plane belongs to a squadron based on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and was deployed to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, which is typical for P-3s, said Kimberly Martin, public affairs officer for Whidbey Naval Air Station.
On Sunday, she said the United States has been unhappy with China's intercept policies of late.
"In the last two months, U.S. military officials have told Chinese officials they have been intercepting in a way the U.S. considers unsafe," said Martin, who confirmed that the plane's wing had been clipped. "China's response has been unsatisfactory."
Former ambassador urges patience with Chinese
With the United States and China at odds on a number of issues, the resolution of this incident could be critical.
Since taking office in January, Bush has taken a harder line with China than former President Clinton did, especially on issues of religious freedom within China. He also supports a move to provide high-technology weapons to Taiwan, which China opposes.
James Sasser, the former U.S. ambassador to China, urged patience in dealing with the Chinese.
"The Chinese don't move fast," he said. "Don't get impatient. Give this thing time to work itself out, and I think it will do so."
Sasser said there was probably a "tug of war" between the Chinese Foreign Ministry, "which wants to cooperate," and the military, "which is dragging its feet."
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