Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

U.S. to ask 'tough questions' at China talks

Lt. Shane Osborn  

In this story:

Raw nerves all around

'I thought ... he just killed us'

Washington considers next move


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials will ask "tough questions" about the standoff over a damaged American spy plane at a meeting Wednesday in China, the White House said.

An eight-member U.S. delegation will meet in Beijing with Chinese officials to discuss issues raised by the April 1 collision between a U.S. surveillance aircraft and a Chinese fighter shadowing it over the South China Sea.

"You can expect some forthright conversations about these flights and about what took place," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

U.S. officials plan to explain their view of how the accident took place, discuss how to avoid future collisions and seek to get the U.S. plane returned. Fleischer said those matters need to be discussed in a "forthright fashion."

The pilot and some of the crew of the U.S. plane talk about the crash and their detention

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

China is honoring their pilot as a hero while stating the U.S. plane broke international law. CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

U.S. Navy Lt. Shane Osborn briefs the media on the collision with a Chinese jet

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

See the video released by the U.S. Department of Defense that sources say shows pilot Wang Wei harassing a U.S. plane

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)
This computer animation shows how the Pentagon says the collision between a U.S. plane and a Chinese fighter happened

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)

Timeline: Overnight calls brought word of release deal
graphic U.S.-China Collision: A diplomatic solution
 • About freighter returning EP-3
 • Look: Inside the EP-3
 • Facts about the EP-3
 • Map: Locating the incident
 • Big picture: High stakes
 • Classroom discussion guide
 • Historical US-China timeline
 • Whidbey arrival images
 • Crew speaks out
 • Crew's return images


"I don't think that either nation wants to have a repeat of an incident like this, and that means flying differently," Fleischer said.

Raw nerves all around

The American plane made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island, where the crew was held for 11 days by Chinese authorities. The 24 fliers were released Wednesday after U.S. officials said they were "very sorry" for the loss of a Chinese pilot in the collision.

The standoff has left raw nerves on both sides. Fleischer said the U.S. delegation will ask "tough questions" about China's policy of intercepting the routine intelligence-gathering flights over international waters.

The U.S. blames Chinese pilot Wang Wei's aggressive tactics for the incident. The reconnaissance plane's crew has said Wang made two extremely close passes alongside the EP-3 Aries II before the collision occurred.

China has called for an end to U.S. surveillance flights off its coast, but U.S. officials say the missions are necessary for national security.

"The United States will always reserve the right to operate over international waters and international airspace to protect the needs of our neighbors, promote regional stability and secure peace," Fleischer said.

U.S. authorities had complained before about China's aggressive tactics in shadowing U.S. surveillance flights, and since the crew's return, Bush administration officials have pressed their case that Wang was responsible for the incident.

China called off the search for its missing pilot on Saturday, with state news outlets eulogizing Wang as a "revolutionary martyr." Chinese observers say the surveillance flights aggravate Beijing by rubbing its nose in U.S. military strength.

"It's part of their containment policy towards China," said Shen Jiru, an analyst at China's Academy of Social Sciences. "They want to be ready for a war with China over Taiwan. This is Cold War logic. They have spy satellites. Why do they have to send planes so close?"

'I thought ... he just killed us'

The pilot of the Navy plane told CNN on Monday he "wouldn't change a thing" about how he handled the collision. Lt. Shane Osborn said his four-engine turboprop, which Navy crews describe as a "flying pig," dropped from 22,500 feet to 15,000 feet after the collision before it leveled off.

"Definitely, I thought on the initial impact that he just killed us," Osborn said.

Added Osborn's co-pilot, Lt. j.g. Richard Vignery: "We all thought we weren't going to make it through."

Osborn and another crewman rejected the Chinese account that the U.S. plane was at fault in the collision. Lt. Patrick Honeck said the Chinese pilot was so close -- within three feet to five feet of the U.S. plane -- that he could see him salute and make gestures for the U.S. plane to leave the area.

"They had joined up on us twice, and it was the third time that the impact happened," Osborn said. "The two prior join-ups were within three to five feet, and Lt. Honeck was looking out the window giving me updates as best as he could, and we knew that this was an unusual type of intercept."

Washington considers next move

Some members of Congress are urging sanctions against China over the incident, suggesting that the U.S. move to block Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games or opposition to further free trade agreements. But some warn that it is Washington that stands to lose from isolating a rapidly growing China.

Others are urging President Bush to approve the sale of destroyers equipped with the Aegis advanced air defense radar system to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have been pressing for resolutions critical of China's human rights record at a United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Fleischer said Wednesday's meeting will be an early gauge of how U.S.-China ties will hold up after the incident off Hainan.

"Both nations have to make a determined choice about the future of their relations," Fleischer said. "And the first evidence of those choices will come in that meeting on Wednesday, and the president wants to hear what the Chinese have to say."

CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace and Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.

Members of Congress consider slapping sanctions on China
April 15, 2001
Homecoming greets U.S. surveillance plane crew
April 14, 2001
U.S. Defense Secretary: Chinese pilot harassed U.S. crew
April 13, 2001
Bush takes 'tough' China stance as crew returns to U.S.
April 12, 2001
Careful language breaks Washington-Beijing impasse
April 11, 2001
Crew's families thrilled with news of release
April 11, 2001
Debriefing awaits U.S. crew before reunions with families
April 11, 2001
U.S. says China must move to break spy plane impasse
April 10, 2001
Chinese envoy urges Congress not to block Olympic bid
April 10, 2001
Standoff a study of semantics
April 10, 2001
China may be stripping plane
April 10, 2001
Chinese pilot's wife sends Bush emotional letter
April 6, 2001
Jiang unfazed during Latin America visit
April 6, 2001

The Pentagon
U.S. Navy
Navy Fact File: EP-3E ORION (ARIES II) Aircraft
U.S. Department of Defense
Government of China (in Chinese)
U.S. Department of State
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S.A.
Government Information Office, Republic of China

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