Hopes for an early resolution
A source close to Beijing's foreign policy establishment said after more than a day's deliberation, the authorities had concluded that the collision was an "accident", and not a conspiracy, which was its interpretation of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
"The leadership's line is it should insist that all responsibilities lie with the American side -- and that Beijing should use this incident to press Washington to stop sending spy planes near Chinese territory," the source said.
"However, the leadership has also decided this accident should not affect the long-term development of bilateral ties."
All Chinese papers on Tuesday ran the protest to the U.S. lodged by Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong.
"Why the U.S. military plane approached to a place so close to China?" Zhou said in his statement. "Why the U.S. plane took a sudden turn, then bumped into and damaged the Chinese jet?"
Zhou also faulted the EP-3 spy plane for intruding into Chinese air space after it had suffered damage.
Western diplomatic analysts pointed out it was significant that Zhou implied that before the collision, the EP-3 was only "close to China" but not necessarily in Chinese airspace.
The analysts said it was important Chinese officials had underscored the need to keep in mind the big picture of long-term Sino-U.S. relationships.
Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, who is out of the country, faulted the U.S. spy plane for bumping into the Chinese jetfighter.
Chinese media quoted Tang as saying the incident should be "resolved through adequate means." Tang added he hoped "the incident will not lead to tension in bilateral ties."
Chinese cadres and spokesmen also desisted from rhetoric about the "aggressive" or "hegemonistic" nature of American foreign and defense policy.
This was despite the fact that a number of newspapers and websites indulged in some America bashing on Tuesday.
For example, the People's Daily ran a commentary on how the American juggernaut was "targeting Asia" and that "Asia's safety and stability are under threat."
Professor Yan Xuetong, who heads Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies, said "Beijing is adopting a low-key approach because it wants to leave room for negotiation."
The senior diplomatic scholar said the problem could be solved relatively quickly if the U.S. were to display the "right attitude."
"Washington should admit the responsibility [for the collision] lies with the U.S. side and it should not whip up a frenzy about a 'China threat'," he added.
He Dalong, an expert at the Xinhua News Agency World Affairs Research Center, said the collision was an "accident" which showed "both sides have even more need to build up contacts and conduct dialogue at various levels."
Chinese foreign policy experts warned, however, that both sides were in for tough negotiations over when the 24-member crew, and particularly, the spy plane, might be released. There was also the issue of compensation for the downed jetfighter and the missing airman.
The experts said complications and disagreements in these negotiations might raise tension -- and hurt bilateral relations over the long haul.
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