Spy plane technicians arrive in Beijing
BEIJING, China -- A team of U.S. technicians has arrived in Beijing for talks with the Chinese leadership about the return of the crippled Navy spy plane still stranded on Hainan Island.
U.S. Embassy officials in the Chinese capital have told CNN that the four technicians and embassy personnel will meet over the weekend with officials from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Reports quoting U.S. officials in Hawaii say that the discussions will focus on how to take the aircraft apart -- not on how to move it off Hainan.
The technical team is expected to assess and report back on transportation, power and support needs for the disassembly of the aircraft.
The US and China have already agreed "in principle" that the EP-3 can be transported out of China in a large cargo airplane once the craft is dismantled, a process expected to take about a month.
Officials in Washington say the dismantling operation is expected to be relatively minor and leaves open the possibility that the aircraft can be rebuilt, repaired and returned to service.
The crippled surveillance plane made an emergency landing at an airfield on the southern island of Hainan exactly two months ago, following a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.
The pilot of the Chinese fighter, whose jet crashed into the sea, was lost and is now presumed to be dead.
China has blamed the crew of the U.S. aircraft for causing the crash, whereas U.S. officials say the aggressive flying of the Chinese pilot caused the collision.
The resulting stand-off sent U.S.-China relations plummeting to their lowest level in years with Beijing refusing to release the crew until Washington said it was "very sorry" for the accident and for the plane landing on Chinese territory without permission.
U.S. officials say there is no timetable for how long the technicians will remain in Beijing.
However, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy said the technicians were not expected to travel to Hainan itself.
Earlier U.S. technicians who had visited the aircraft reported that it could be repaired and flown out of China under its own power.
However, China's leaders have repeatedly ruled out such an option.
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