Skip to main content

Lieberman: China played 'aggressive game of aerial chicken'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the high-ranking Democrat from Connecticut, said the U.S. Navy spy plane that made an emergency landing in China was damaged due to an "aggressive game of aerial chicken being played by the Chinese air force."

"When you play chicken, sometimes you get hurt," Lieberman said on CNN's "Larry King Live," referring to Sunday's collision between the U.S. plane and a Chinese fighter.

The Chinese pilot is missing and presumed dead.

Lieberman's comments were some of the most forceful among legislators on Capitol Hill who ratcheted up their rhetoric Wednesday on the standoff.

Twenty-four U.S. crew members were being detained on the Chinese island of Hainan, where the crew made its emergency landing after their EP-3 reconnaissance plane suffered damage to two of its four engines during the collision with the Chinese fighter jet.

Lieberman, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said, despite what Beijing says, the United States has nothing to apologize for.

"There's no reason why our plane would have tried to ram into a jet. They were tracking us. They were being aggressive," Lieberman said.

"We apologized to them when we accidentally hit their embassy in Belgrade. There is nothing to apologize to them here for now," he said.

During NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia, the United States accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists and injuring more than 20 people. The United States repeatedly apologized for the incident and has paid tens of millions of dollars to China in compensation.

In the current incident, U.S. officials have urged Beijing to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

Lieberman said China could make the incident a "genuine, full-blown" crisis if they don't soon return the 24 crew members, comprised of 21 men and three women.

"It's not in their interest to continue this standoff. They have nothing to gain," said Lieberman, adding that various diplomatic and economic measures could be taken affecting U.S.-China relations.

Lieberman, who ran as the Democratic vice presidential candidate against the Bush- Cheney ticket, praised President George W. Bush's handling of the issue.

"He's been clear, he's been direct, but he's not been inflammatory. He's said what's most important: Let that crew come home," Lieberman said.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, who also appeared on "Larry King Live," criticized Chinese leader Jiang Zemin for leaving on a trip to South America with the standoff unresolved.

"That sort of cavalier attitude is not really helpful," he said.

Lugar said Chinese officials "clumsily tried to handle" the incident and now the United States is seeing "internal Chinese politics, in which Chinese leaders do not want to be perceived as either weak or inept."

But he predicted China will let the U.S. crew come home: "China is going to understand its best interest here."

Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. envoy during the Clinton administration, also said China needs to resolve the standoff quickly.

"They could turn an accident into a crisis that redefines Sino-American relations if they don't find a way out of this fast," he said.

See related sites about Politics
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top