Former Chinese top diplomat Qian Qichen dies at age 90

Chinese state media say a former vice premier and top diplomat who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China has died in Beijing at the age of 90.

Citing an official statement, Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that Qian Qichen died of an unspecified illness on Tuesday night.

The Shanghai-born veteran diplomat was chairman of a committee China appointed to prepare for Hong Kong's change of sovereignty in 1997.

Qian was also the country's top foreign affairs official in 2001 when relations with the United States took a steep downturn after a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot.

Xinhua said Qian was "an outstanding leader in diplomacy of the country."