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Japan concern over regional stability

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan has urged the U.S. and China to resolve quickly their dispute over a mid-air collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter.

Japan said Monday that the China-U.S. relationship was crucial to Asian stability.

"Good relations between the United States and China are important to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," top government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference.

"Our government hopes that the safety of the crew will be ensured and the issue will be resolved smoothly and promptly," Fukuda told a news conference.

Washington and Beijing have blamed each other for the incident over the South China Sea, in which a Chinese pilot has gone missing.

China issued an angry statement saying the fighter crashed after being rammed by the U.S. aircraft, which made an emergency landing on the southern Chinese island of Hainan with 24 crew on board.

Rescuers were searching for the Chinese pilot.

The head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Dennis Blair, said it was probably an accident caused by the fighter bumping into the U.S. plane.

Tokyo avoided taking sides either with its giant Asian neighbor or its key ally.

"We do not know any more than what already has been made public by the press, and there are some conflicting reports so we are seeking to gather more accurate information on this incident," Fukuda said.

"Whatever happens however, good Sino-U.S. relations are indispensable for the security of the Asia-Pacific Region," he said.

The aircraft now stranded on Hainan operates took off from the huge Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

A spokesman at the air base confirmed that plane had taken off from Kadena, but refused to comment further, referring all queries to the Pacific Command.

The incident threatens to damage China-U.S. relations at a delicate time when U.S. President George W. Bush is weighing his strategy toward China and faces a crucial decision on whether to sell advanced weapon systems to Taiwan.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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