Waiting game for US plane

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Waiting game for US plane

The Navy crew is reported safe, but concern grows over the technology aboard.

By Bob Marquand Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


It's a tense standoff that's reminiscent of a bygone cold-war era, when US spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in 1960.

Chinese officials Monday appeared to be playing a waiting game. At press time, US officials had not yet been allowed to make contact with the crew of a Navy spy plane, loaded with eavesdropping technology, that made an emergency landing on the island of Hainan on Sunday.

In Washington, President Bush said "I'm troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response," and three US destroyers were ordered to stay in the sea near Hainan.

The Chinese have no reason to rush their response, say sources in Beijing, and a careful and calibrated silence over what they see as a downed spy plane off their shores sends a multilayered message of "great power" toughness to the US at a time when relations are not at their best.

"If the Chinese do not take action to resolve this quickly and cleanly, within the next day or so, it could easily escalate into an even larger diplomatic incident which will negatively impact the relationship in significant ways," says Bates Gill, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The ball is in their court to resolve this."

But China may not move quickly. "Clearly, this is an opportunity for the Chinese to force the US to take them more seriously. They have long resented American reconnaissance flights in this area, which are essentially designed to gain military intelligence" about China, says Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at the John F. Kennedy School Government at Harvard University.

Both US and Chinese officials have stated repeatedly that surveillance missions and interplay between military aircraft above the South China Sea have been routine. Partly, the cause of the friction between the US and China is a dispute over what is and is not Chinese airspace in the South China Sea. But this incident highlights a more intense level of intercepts between aircraft on the two sides.

"The intercepts by the Chinese fighters over the past couple of months have become more aggressive to the point that we felt that they were endangering the safety of Chinese and American aircraft," US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Dennis Blair told reporters in Hawaii.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy issued a statement Monday saying that the intercepting jets were from a Chinese Navy air unit that took off from Lingshui airfield - the same base where the American EP-3 landed. In the past year, according to the report, Chinese jets have 13 times encountered US aircraft in a manner designed to "get close to and confront" US planes, with one Chinese commander "inserting his plane into the formation of the US craft and coming within eight meters of a plane." The center's director, Frank Liu, says the information was obtained by calling "people" in and around Hainan Island and the Lingshui airbase.

Such accounts are impossible to verify, though sources say they "fit the pattern" of recent months.

But the immediate concern of US officials is contacting the crew, and protecting the sensitive equipment on the EP-3. It is not yet known whether the equipment on the plane was disabled or destroyed by the crew, who evidently shut down the electrical systems on the aircraft when it landed.

Some sources say that military personnel who fly sensitive reconnaissance missions are trained to quickly immobilize the computer systems and radar telemetry on the aircraft.

In the case of the forced landing of the EP-3, which suffered damage to its left wing and the outside (No. 1) engine of four turboprops, the flying crew would have been in an emergency crisis. But many of the 20 or so other personnel would have had 70 to 80 miles of flying time, plus time on the ground, to render the equipment useless.

"I think it's very unlikely that [the crew] would have been able to disable or destroy critical intelligence assets so completely that the Chinese could get nothing from it," says Dr. Walt. "If the Chinese have an opportunity to explore the plane at leisure, I'm sure they will find something."

The three US diplomats in Hainan are close enough to the Lingshui airbase so that "if they were given permission" they could contact the crew immediately. "Under the generally accepted norms of international law, our aircrew is immune to PRC jurisdiction,"Ambassador Prueher told reporters here Monday.

"It is inexplicable and unacceptable and of grave concern to the most senior leaders in the US government that the aircrew has been held incommunicado for over 32 hours, and the Chinese so far have given us no explanation for holding the crew," Prueher said.

This incident comes at a delicate time. "There are so many things going on in the US-China relationship right now from newly detained scholars, to human rights, to Taiwan arms sales," says Thomas Gold, China expert at the University of California, Berkeley. "On the one hand, the Chinese foreign ministry is trying to make nice with the Bush administration, which still does not have a working East Asia team. At the same time, the White House says publicly it wants to lean toward Japan, and be a competitor with China. We are seeing in this incident that part of the Chinese leadership that is taking this confrontational language, and approach seriously. They don't trust the US on Taiwan, on anything."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001


CHINA -- The U.S. ambassador to China on Monday chided Beijing authorities for keeping 24 American crew members out of touch since their Navy reconnaissance plane was forced to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island following a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

U.S. diplomats headed to Hainan Island off China's southern coast where the Navy plane landed at the Lingshui military airport. Ambassador Joseph Prueher, a retired admiral and former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said China's refusal to allow U.S. officials to talk with the 24-member crew was inexplicable and unacceptable. It was unclear whether the diplomats' presence on Hainan would change China's position.

There were also reports that at least six reporters from Hong Kong and foreign news organizations had been detained by authorities in Lingshui and told to leave.

Prueher said Beijing insisted that the U.S. crew was responsible for the collision and said that as the crew has been kept incommunicado, U.S. officials have no information from the Navy personnel regarding the allegation.

Chinese authorities assured U.S. officials that the crewmembers were safe. The crew was almost certainly off the plane, a Pacific Command official said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the United States had "total responsibility for this event." The ministry on Sunday accused the U.S. Navy EP-3 plane of suddenly veering and bumping the F-8 fighter jet, causing the fighter to crash into the South China Sa. The incident occurred shortly after about 9 a.m. Sunday about 62 miles southeast of Hainan. The Chinese pilot was still missing Monday.

Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly of Pacific Command at Camp Smith, Hawaii, said the crew contacted Navy officials after the aircraft had been damaged in the collision but since that initial message, "We haven't heard a peep ... as far as we know they (crew members) are still in Hainan and that the Chinese government is taking care of them."

"Naturally we are concerned that we haven't heard from them. If this happened in the United States, in minutes we would have them in contact with their government and families," he added. "China seems to be dragging it heels."

Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Dennis Blair criticized China Sunday at a news conference in Hawaii saying that "Chinese fighters over the past couple of months have become more aggressive to the point that we felt they were endangering the safety of the Chinese and American aircraft."

"It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air," said Kelly. "Big airplanes like this (the Navy craft) fly straight and level on their path, little airplanes zip around them," he said. "It's pretty obvious who bumped into whom ... I'm going on common sense now because I haven't talked to our crew."

A spokesman for the Pacific Command said the Navy plane should be regarded as sovereign U.S. territory.

"We expect that their government will respect the integrity of the aircraft and well-being and safety of the crew in accordance with international practices, and that they'll expedite any necessary repairs to the aircraft and that they'll facilitate the immediate return of the aircraft and crew," said Lt. Col. Dewey Ford, a spokesman at Fort Smith in Hawaii.

The U.S. Navy said the plane was on a routine surveillance run in international airspace when it was intercepted by two Chinese fighters and bumped by one of them. The Navy EP-3 was forced to land in southern China. The Navy said the plane, fitted with high technology listening devices and an advanced radar system, had been badly damaged. The pilot put in a distress call and landed on Hainan.

http://kevxml.infospace.com/_1_4N7HTSK028PC99E__info/kevxml?kcfg=upi- article&sin=200104021207020003640&otmpl=/upi/story.htm&qcat=news&ran=1 8684&passqi=&passdate=04/02/2001

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

Inside China Today General News

China Quiet on Fate of Crippled U.S. Surveillance Plane

BEIJING, Apr 2, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) China refused to say Monday whether it would bow to U.S. demands to return an American Navy surveillance plane which was forced to land on Hainan Island after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

Officials from the foreign ministry and defense ministry refused all comment on what they planned to do with the E-P3 surveillance craft and 24 crew after it made an emergency landing on the southern island on Sunday.

A team of diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Beijing meanwhile was heading to Lingshui Airport on Hainan, said an embassy spokesman.

Officials at Lingshui refused to make any comment about the situation but suggested the airstrip was exclusively for military use.

"We have to maintain secrecy here," said an official.

China said the U.S. plane suddenly veered towards one of two Chinese fighter jets shadowing its movements early Sunday around 104 kilometers (64 miles) southeast of Hainan, causing the jet to crash.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said the U.S. plane then intruded into China's airspace to make an unauthorized landing at Lingshui. He said the plane's crew was safe and being appropriately taken care of.

"The direct cause of the damage and crash of the Chinese jet was that the U.S. plane suddenly veered into the Chinese jet, which was against flight rules. Therefore, the U.S. side should bear all the responsibility arising therefrom," said Zhu, quoted by the official Xinhua news agency.

"The Chinese side has made solemn representations and protested to the U.S. side, and China reserves its right to further negotiate with the U.S. side on the losses resulted in the incident," Zhu added.

U.S. officials have painted a different version of events and have also demanded the immediate return of the E-P3 and its crew.

U.S. Pacific Command chief Admiral Dennis Blair said the aircraft was in international airspace when it was intercepted by Chinese fighter jets, and that one of the jets "bumped into the wing of the EP-3 aircraft".

Upon landing at Lingshui, the U.S. crew sent a radio message to its base, informing superiors that the plane had landed safely with all 24 crew members on board, according to Blair.

Blair said aircraft like the EP-3 enjoy "sovereign immunity."

"No other country can go on board them or seize them," Blair said. "They are sovereign territory."

U.S. ambassador to China Joseph Prueher has reportedly held several rounds of talks with Chinese officials on the incident.

He said in an interview with CNN late Sunday that he had been informed the crew of the E-P3 was safe and sound, and that U.S. officials would be allowed to see them in the near future.

Prueher also confirmed that at least one Chinese aircraft had been lost in the incident. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

EP-3 Crew May be Used As "Hostages" for PLA Defector, Taiwan Scholar Says

TAIPEI, Apr 2, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Beijing may use the 24 crew of the U.S. EP-3 spy aircraft which landed in China as "hostages" in pushing for the extradition of a defecting senior Chinese officer, a military analyst said Monday.

"Don't you feel the timing of the event was unusual to intercept a surveillance plane on a routine mission?" asked Yang Chih-heng, deputy director of the Strategic and International Studies under the private Taiwan Research Institute think-thank.

He referred to the defection in December of People's Liberation Army (PLA) senior colonel Xu Junping in New York while on a visit with a group of Chinese military officials.

Unconfirmed reports said Xu had brought with him confidential information which allowed the George W. Bush administration to have a better picture of the PLA.

"Beijing may use the plane's 24 crew as 'hostages' in seeking the return of Xu," Yang told AFP.

"The possibility must not be ruled out," he said.

In Beijing U.S. ambassador Joseph Prueher Monday demanded immediate access to the crew of the U.S. navy surveillance plane who have been held incommunicado for 32 hours since the aircraft made an emergency landing in China's southern Hainan Island following a mid-air collision.

He described the lack of communication with the crew as "unacceptable" and urged Beijing to conform with established international procedures following emergency landings that the plane not be searched, boarded, inspected or detained by the Chinese side.

One Chinese fighter jet crashed after the collision and the pilot was still missing, China's foreign ministry said.

While saying the event could be an isolated case, Yang said: "Beijing may send a clear warning signal to Washington through the aggressive attitude in intercepting the routine U.S. patrol mission."

"They may try to tell Washington the PLA is now armed with capability to counter against any attack from the U.S.," Yang said.

Taiwan's defense and foreign ministries declined to comment on the issue which they said had nothing to do with the island.

Yang said Washington may now expedite its arms sale to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of territory awaiting reunification.

"Washington may not sell the advanced weaponry Taipei desires in the coming arms talks but it may do so next year," he said.

Washington remains the largest arms supplier to Taiwan despite its switching of political recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is likely to recommend selling aging Kidd-class destroyers to Taiwan this year, but not a high-tech ship-borne Aegis radar system that Beijing has said Taiwan must not acquire. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

Military patrols routine, says US

By JIM MANN WASHINGTON Tuesday 3 April 2001

For five decades, American planes have been flying patrol missions off the Chinese coastline, US military experts say - and China's air force has been regularly sending its own aircraft to watch them.

But never have these routine, military manoeuvres resulted in a collision or emergency landing like the one on Sunday.

"When I first heard about this, I was so shocked I thought it might be an April Fools' joke," said retired rear admiral Eric McVadon, a former US military attache in Beijing who for 25 years flew military planes similar to the one involved in Sunday's incident.

Another former US military attache in China explained that pilots who fly the US patrol missions expect the Chinese air force to send its planes in response. "That's one of the purposes of our flying these aircraft, to see how they (the Chinese) scramble us, to see how we do," he said. "It's not just against China - we do this around the world."

Usually when the People's Liberation Army sends planes to the vicinity of American patrols, the Chinese aircraft remain a short distance away.

US officials said Sunday's collision appeared to be the result of an accident.

Despite the frequency of US patrols and Chinese counter-patrols, there has not been any direct confrontation between the two for more than six years. In October, 1994, the US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and a Chinese nuclear submarine squared off in the Yellow Sea over three days. No shots were fired, but the Kitty Hawk sent out anti- submarine aircraft to track the submarine, and Chinese jet fighters flew within in sight of the US planes.

The Kitty Hawk confrontation, which US officials tried to keep secret, was sufficiently worrisome that the US and China negotiated a deal aimed at preventing accidents or inadvertent clashes at sea.

The pact, known as the Military Maritime Consultation Agreement, was signed in 1998. It covers mostly warships, not patrol aircraft.

Several US military experts said they were convinced the collision was the result of a mistake, rather than a deliberate act by the Chinese. They reasoned that if Beijing had wanted a diplomatic confrontation with the US, it would have forced the American plane to land, rather than bumping it in mid-air.



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

Collision upsets region's stability


With Sino-American relations already tense, the collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet could not have come at a worse time.

American analysts said it could escalate into a significant diplomatic problem, heightening distrust just at the point when President George W. Bush must decide whether his policy towards China is to engage or contain.

In the next few weeks, the President is due to make key decisions that will signal whether the more hawkish rhetoric towards China translates into hard policy. If it does, it could have huge repercussions for stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

More immediately, the Pentagon is worried about the security risk. The EP-3 surveillance aircraft uses sophisticated electronic equipment to eavesdrop on nearby ships and surrounding areas and could hold sensitive information about the Chinese military.

A Chinese expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Bates Gill, said the aircraft would be a "treasure trove" for Beijing because the equipment was far more advanced than anything in the Chinese military.

The White House was jumpy about any security breach, and insistent that China return the plane and its crew of 24 immediately. American diplomats are travelling to Hainan, intending to escort the crew out of China and make sure the Chinese do not examine the plane's data.

Senator John McCain, a former navy pilot and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told NBC that the incident "could be another episode in a series of problems we are having in our relationship with China".

"They should not enter the aircraft or have access to any of the equipment on board. I think that is the first thing - assurance - we need from the Chinese."

Until this incident, military sales to Taiwan were looming as the flashpoint in the US-Chinese relationship, which has been in confusion since Mr Bush took office, largely because there is as yet no China policy.

This month Mr Bush has to decide whether to sell sophisticated radar to Taiwan. China warned that such a sale would increase the likelihood of war. How each side handles the crash is expected to influence Washington's attitude towards the sale.

The US is obliged under law to sell Taiwan sufficient military hardware to defend itself. Conservatives are pushing for greater support for Taiwan and a harder line against what they see as the Chinese threat to American dominance in Asia. Moderates are urging restraint and engagement.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that a secret navy review concluded that Taiwan did need new weapons, including the Aegis radar system, by 2010. Aegis can track more than 100 planes and missiles and China fears it will be used as part of a missile defence system aimed at curtailing Chinese military strength.

American analysts are expecting the administration to refuse to sell ships with the Aegis system, in favor of the Kidd-class destroyer as a stopgap. The US could warn Beijing that the Aegis system would be sold to Taiwan if China did not stop acting aggressively towards Taipei.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 02, 2001.

Crew Had 'Destruction Plan' Plane's Personnel Trained to Destroy Equipment, Data

By Edward Walsh Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, April 3, 2001; Page A17

The crew of the Navy plane that collided with a Chinese jet fighter was trained to destroy the highly sensitive equipment and classified material aboard the aircraft in such circumstances, Navy officials and others familiar with Navy practices said yesterday.

The crew of the EP-3E Aries II electronic warfare and surveillance aircraft radioed that it landed safely at a Chinese naval base on Hainan Island after its collision over the South China Sea, but has not been heard from since. U.S. officials said they do not know the condition of the computers and electronic eavesdropping devices aboard the aircraft.

But a Navy official said that, like all military personnel carrying classified equipment and documents, the Navy crew of 24 had a "classified destruction plan" for what to do in such an emergency.

"If the plan called on them to destroy classified material, you can bet that's what they were doing" as the four-engine, turboprop plane lumbered toward the Chinese air base, the official said. How such a plan would be carried out "depends on circumstances," he added.

Others suggested that the destruction techniques could range from the use of specially configured grenades and computer memory erasure devices to someone wielding an ax to shatter the equipment.

The Navy said last night the crew include three women and eight cryptologists -- code specialists involved in decoding and analyzing the electronic information picked up by the plane. The crew consisted of 22 Navy personnel, one Marine and one member of the Air Force.

About a dozen EP-3E aircraft are used to intercept radio, telephone and fax communications, and to gather information on the military movements and capabilities of potential adversaries. The plane is not available for purchase by other nations.

"We'll sell a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but we're not selling these to anybody," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense, space and intelligence policy analysis organization.

Pike said the EP-3E, which can fly for about 12 hours, can be "enormously informative." Coupled with a worldwide network of airfields, the plane's range of about 3,000 miles means "there is very little of interest that they cannot monitor," he said.

Pike said the EP-3E can intercept communications that are broadcast and pinpoint the location of military headquarters, ships, radio and radar installations and other electronic equipment in use. "Basically, they just fly down the coast of China and check to see who is at home," he said.

But the Chinese often change electronic frequencies, he said, "and that is why they keep flying these things. It's sort of like your phone book is always going bad, and you would not want to go into battle with a three-year-old phone book. So you continuously update the electronic order of battle."

Pike said the crew would have rehearsed a "standard procedure" to protect the most sensitive equipment and material on the aircraft if something went wrong.

"Destroying the computer tapes and the computer hard drives would protect most of what is sensitive about the airplane," he said. "The Chinese would not be able to see what the airplane had collected, and would have a hard time understanding the capabilities of the plane if they could not turn the computers on.

"You do that by destroying the tapes the intelligence was gathered on and destroying the hard drives. It is a fairly straightforward procedure that almost certainly could be done in the time that was available."

Pike said the aircraft contains "special-purpose signal-processing computers," and that "if somebody had an ax, they might profitably try to smash some of that stuff."

If the crew did not destroy the equipment, Chinese scientists might be figure out how it works and duplicate it. Pike noted that by inspecting the aircraft, the Chinese "would gain some insight" into how U.S. electronic surveillance missions operate -- for example, on how weak a signal could be detected by the EP-3E, which might allow them to better protect themselves from eavesdropping.

"You can reduce the damage" from the emergency landing in Chinese territory, "but you cannot eliminate it," Pike said.

Navy officials said the surveillance aircraft was unarmed and crews on such planes generally do not carry guns. They estimated that it took the plane between 30 minutes and an hour to fly to Hainan Island after the collision.

The Navy also continued to insist that the collision was the fault of the pilot of the Chinese jet. One official said that in recent months, Chinese jets that routinely intercept the U.S. surveillance aircraft were "just coming in too close. That's been increasing over the last couple of months. They've been coming closer and closer."

The official would not say how often U.S. aircraft patrol near the Chinese coast, but he insisted the surveillance planes remain in international airspace. "There has been no reason to change the way we have been doing things," he said.

A retired naval officer with experience in the Pacific said he had been told Chinese pilots recently have been "kind of hot-dogging it around the [U.S.] aircraft." The EP-3E, he said, "is kind of like an elephant up there. He flies straight and level. He doesn't take an unforeseen action."

"These are pretty big airplanes," said another retired Navy officer, Rear Adm. Michael A. McDevitt. "It's certainly not a sports car. The EP-3 wasn't trying to intercept the fighter, and it certainly was not doing evasive things."

The EP-3E is a converted version of the P-3 Orion, a Navy anti- submarine warfare aircraft. It traces its airframe roots to the ill- fated Lockheed Electra commercial aircraft.

Although it carries some of the most sophisticated electronic equipment available, the plane is far from glamorous. It is about the size of a Boeing 737 commercial plane and has a top speed of about 340 mph.

2001 The Washington Post Company


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 03, 2001.

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