FAS | Secrecy | April 2001 News ||| Index | Search | Join FAS

Associated Press
April 19, 2001

U.S., China Show Plane Videos

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a war of videos, Beijing is showing its own tape of U.S. fighter pilots flying close to Chinese jets, much as the Pentagon has been using its video show to portray China as the aggressor over the South China Sea.

The Chinese played their video Thursday during the second day of talks in Beijing on who is to blame for the April 1 collision of a Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet that was shadowing it. Pentagon officials dismissed the tape as misleading and irrelevant.

The Chinese footage, apparently shot last year, showed U.S. Navy F-14 and F/A-18 fighters near what appeared to be the Chinese coastline. It seemed to have been shot from the cockpit of a Chinese plane, and an American pilot can be seen taking pictures back.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said the video depicted "dangerous and aggressive" U.S. flying.

The Pentagon's spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, disagreed.

"That showed clearly the F-14 and F/A-18s that were in the proximity of whatever type of Chinese aircraft it was - I assume it was a jet - ... and what you saw was quite a civil distance being maintained," he said.

Quigley said the video was shot in such a way as to distort the distance between the American and Chinese planes.

"They were pretty quick with the zoom button on the video camera, and it brought the aircraft much closer, but I think the starting point of the video that they showed indeed showed the U.S. aircraft at what we would consider a prudent distance from the Chinese aircraft, and that's all we're asking for in this case is prudent, non-aggressive, non-threatening flying," he added.

The Chinese video was released as a counterpoint to an American video shown at a Pentagon news conference last week by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in which the pilot of a Chinese F-8 fighter is shown flying outside the wing of an American turboprop surveillance aircraft off the Chinese coast earlier this year. Rumsfeld said it proved that Chinese pilots had been flying dangerously close to American surveillance aircraft in international airspace even before the April 1 collision.

"It's dueling videos," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst for the private Federation of American Scientists. "There obviously is a battle of public perception going on."

In Thursday's talks in Beijing, the Chinese reiterated their position that the Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane turned suddenly into the path of their fighter, causing a collision and sending the fighter plunging into the sea. The pilot was lost and the Navy plane was forced to make an emergency landing at China's Hainan island.

The U.S. negotiators in Beijing presented a written proposal for permitting a team of U.S. aeronautical engineers and EP-3E experts to go to Hainan and inspect the plane in order to determine whether it makes more sense to repair and fly it out or take it apart and ship it out, officials said.

China, which has not said it will return the plane, is expected to answer the U.S. proposal through diplomatic channels.

At the White House, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the future of U.S.-China relations will be determined in part by how the current dispute is resolved.

"Obviously, to have a fruitful and productive relationship going on with China, it's going to take two who want a fruitful and productive relationship," Rice said. "So, how the Chinese continue to describe what happened, how the Chinese talk about what happened will matter a lot."

The U.S. side in the Beijing talks also presented a proposal for ways to ensure that such collisions do not recur, the officials said. They proposed discussing it at a meeting of a special U.S.-China military maritime commission. No date was set but U.S. officials estimated it would take place in about two weeks.

Also at issue is China's demand that the United States stop all surveillance flights off its coast.

There have been none since the collision, but the administration is weighing when to resume the flights. Quigley declined to discuss the matter. Other officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the flights could resume at any time. They said the administration was considering whether to present a diplomatic note to Beijing first stressing the need for any intercepting jets to maintain a safe distance.

The administration is keeping open the option of using Air Force F-15C fighter jets to escort future surveillance aircraft off the Chinese coast, but several officials said they doubted this would be done because it would escalate tensions. The Air Force has F-15Cs based at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Zhang Yuan Yuan, spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, was asked at a news conference Thursday whether there was a link between China's decision to hold on to the American surveillance plane and the impending U.S. decision on selling advanced weaponry to Taiwan.

"I am not making any connection ... but our position with regard to U.S. arms sales in Taiwan has been consistent and firm: We are opposed," Zhang said. He said a sale of third-generation Patriot missiles and other advanced arms would have a "devastating impact on U.S.-China relations."

FAS | Secrecy | April 2001 News ||| Index | Search | Join FAS