China: U.S. Spy Plane Won't Be Allowed To Fly Home

By Patrick Goodenough | May 8, 2001 | 8:09pm EDT

London ( - The damaged U.S. Navy surveillance plane stranded on China's Hainan Island for more than a month will not be allowed to fly back home, Beijing said Tuesday.

The official Xinhua news agency quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi as saying Chinese negotiators had made it clear to their U.S. counterparts on several occasions "that it is impossible for the U.S. EP-3 plane to fly back to U.S. from Hainan Island."

"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," Sun added.

He was responding to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's reported comments expressing confidence that China would allow the EP-3E Aries II to return to the U.S., and saying it appeared it could be repaired to make such a flight possible.

The spy plane has been grounded at Hainan since it was involved in a mid-air collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet at the beginning of last month. The 24-person crew was allowed to leave after being detained for 11 days, and U.S. technicians have since been allowed to examine the aircraft.

China claimed the American plane had deliberately rammed the F-8, whose pilot was killed, while the U.S. said the collision was probably an accident that occurred when the fighter got too close during a routine midair observation of the spy plane.

The U.S. said on Monday it had resumed reconnaissance flights off the Chinese coast for the first time since the incident. An RC-135 plane from a U.S. air base on Okinawa, Japan, flew along the northern portion of China's coastline, defense official said.

Sun said Tuesday Beijing's opposition to such flights remained "consistent and clear." He urged Washington to "draw a lesson [from the EP-3 episode] and correct such wrong-doings."

"China has constantly opposed U.S. spy flights off China's coast and will continue to lodge serious representations with the United States on the resumption of such flights."

The RC-135 is a four-engine plane built on a Boeing 707 frame. It carries a crew of up to 27, and, according to the U.S. Air Force, enjoys "near real time, on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities."

It has been used to support every major U.S. military operation since Vietnam, including Panama, Grenada, the bombing of "terrorist-related targets" in Libya in 1986, the Gulf War, and the Balkans.

National security advisor Condoleezza Rice told Fox News on Sunday President Bush believed it was possible to have a "productive and fruitful relationship with China." But she added that "clearly the way the Chinese handle the fact we have a plane on the ground will have an effect on how we see relations."

MRC Store