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Standoff Between U.S. and China Drawing to a Close

Aired April 11, 2001 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, after 10 days of uncertainty, the tense standoff between the U.S. and China is now drawing to a close. China today promised to release the 24 detained U.S. crewmembers of that crippled Navy surveillance plane.

A U.S. plane is now en route from Guam to China's Hainan Island to pick up the U.S. personnel. They will fly first to Guam, then on to Hawaii, before returning to their home base at Whidbey Island, Washington.

The breakthrough came in a U.S. letter to Beijing. In it, the Bush administration said it was very sorry for the loss of that Chinese fighter pilot who collided with the Navy plane and for entering Chinese airspace without permission. But the letter stopped short of a full apology.

As for the return of the spy plane, that's remains up in the air, at least publicly. Washington, of course, wants it back.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: China calls today's decision to release the crewmembers of that Navy spy plane a humanitarian gesture, but Chinese officials insist the case is not closed. More now on that view from Beijing, here's CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon.

REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Hello, Lou.

Well, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, now traveling in Latin America, has already reacted to these latest events, is saying, as you said, that Chinese do not view this situation as closed at all. China continues to demand a further explanation from the United States as to why the collision happened. It wants a guarantee such incidents will not happen again. It wants an end to U.S. surveillance flights near Chinese airspace.

At the same time, though, China is declaring a victory over getting the United States to say sorry after what it characterized as much harsher and demanding rhetoric coming from the Bush administration a week ago. So it's declaring victory in terms of getting a much more apologetic tone out of the Bush administration.

Now U.S. Ambassador to China, Joseph Prueher, was very critical in the negotiations. He spent many long hours over the past week in sessions with the Chinese foreign ministry, and here is what he had to say about the negotiations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH PRUEHER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: That understanding was conveyed to the Chinese government today in the form of a letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. The letter was a product of intense diplomatic efforts by both our Chinese counterparts and by is. In return, Foreign Minister Tang gave me his assurances that the U.S. aircrew would be able to depart China promptly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACKINNON: Now the ambassador made clear that from China -- that from the United States' point of view, the U.S. crew did not do anything wrong and that the United States is very proud of what the U.S. crew did in making the safe emergency landing.

However, the Chinese media, the Chinese government emphasizing the fact that the crew did violent Chinese airspace, not mentioning a part of the letter written by the U.S. to China in which the U.S. did emphasize the fact that the U.S. feels the landing was necessary in order to save the crew. That part omitted from Chinese reports. China still emphasizing the fact that their airspace was violated.

Now, as you mentioned, also, talks over the release of the plane, when it's going to be returned to the United States, are going to continue -- Lou.

WATERS: Rebecca of immediate concern here, of course, the crewmen and women on the island, and that would require, it would seem, the parsing of the word "promptly." We now have a Continental jet -- chartered jet on the way to Hainan Island. It will land in about five hours, but do we know what promptly means? Will the aircrew be able to board the plane as soon as it gets there, or what do you know that schedule, if anyth?

MACKINNON: Well, Lou, there aren't many hard and fast details, but what we had been hearing a few hours ago was that the crew would be out within 24 hours. So I think, by the end of the day Thursday, China time -- it's now Wednesday night -- that implies that they would be gone.

So it seems that the plane will be landing in the wee hours of the morning Thursday local time, and it's unclear exactly how long it will take to go through whatever formalities, legal, diplomatic, or otherwise, the Chinese feel need to be gone through before the crew can get on the plane and take off -- Lou.

Lou: All right. CNN Beijing bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon keeping watch today -- Natalie?

ALLEN: A chartered U.S. jet is now on its way to China's Hainan Island to retrieve the crew. For now, the plan is to fly the crew back to Guam aboard a U.S. commercial jet. From there, they would change planes and head to Hawaii before returning to their home base in Washington State, as we mentioned.

CNN's Marina Kamimura is on Guam with more on the logistics of this trip -- Marina.

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie.

Well, things pretty much back to normal at this 24-hour airport here in Guam, Guam's International Airport, just half an hour after that commercial -- chartered commercial flight few out to Hainan. Several flights taking off and landing since that Continental 737 jet chartered by the U.S. headed off to Hainan Island to pick up those 24 crewmembers and bring them home.

Now, if all goes well, given that five-and-a-half -- roughly five-and-a-half-hour flight time to Hianan, those crewmembers could conceivably be back here early afternoon on Saturday local time.

As you mentioned, once they are back on the ground here, although not likely at this airport, Guam's International Airport, rather at the air base Anderson Air Force Base, here on Guam, they're supposed to switch to a military plane that will take them on that next leg of their journey off to Hawaii before they finally head back to the Continental U.S. to Whidbey Island there in Washington -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Marina Kamimura on Guam on the latest on this flight going to pick up the crew on Hianan Island. Thanks.

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