BEIJING – After almost two weeks of intense searching, China on Saturday ended its hunt for the pilot elevated to the status of national hero after his fighter jet collided with a U.S. spy plane.
The search for pilot Wang Wei, lost when his plane plunged into the sea after the April 1 collision, ended at 6 p.m. Saturday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Analysis of the situation from every angle indicated there was no chance he could have survived," Xinhua said.
State media lionized Wang as a hero of national defense. China's navy launched what it said was its biggest search ever to find him, using military and fishing boats and aircraft to comb 292,300 square miles of tropical ocean.
China abruptly eased up its campaign of anti-U.S. rhetoric on Saturday, with state-run media featuring instead the anniversary of a long-dead Communist revolutionary.
Apart from a handful of human-interest reports about the pilot's family and articles claiming broad public support for Beijing's decision to release the detained crew of the spy plane, there were few mentions of the incident that had so inflamed China-U.S. tensions.
State-run television's news at noon devoted most of its attention to President Jiang Zemin's visit to Cuba, part of a 12-day Latin American tour that has kept him abroad during most of the crisis over the spy plane collision.
In his talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro on Friday, Jiang did not make direct mention of Beijing's contention that the United States was responsible for the incident, though in a statement he praised the Cuban people for "safeguarding state sovereignty and independence and fighting against outside interference and subversion."
Jiang's government used similar language to describe its handling of the spy plane incident.
Back home, the wholly state-run media shifted gears, devoting front-page and inside commentaries to commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Zhao Shiyan, a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhao, who led three major worker uprisings in Shanghai and more than 100 anti-imperialist strikes in the 1920s, symbolizes the country's struggle earlier this century with Western colonial powers and Japan. He was executed by the rival Nationalists in 1927.
"Comrades, Zhao Shiyan left us more than 70 years ago, but his glorious achievements and honorable spirit remain like a monument in our hearts," Li Peng, head of the national legislature and No. 2 in the party, wrote in an article carried by most official newspapers, including the party flagship People's Daily.
One tabloid-style newspaper ran an article reiterating China's continued objections to U.S. surveillance flights in international airspace off its coast.
"The Chinese people will not be trampled upon," declared the Modern Weekly International.
Another tabloid, the Beijing Youth Daily, citing the New York Times, reported that the United States would resume spy flights and that this was likely to be a continued source of conflict.
In talks scheduled to begin Wednesday, China is expected to restate its objections to the flights, which it views as an infringement on national sovereignty.
The spy plane collision is one of many sources of rancor. An upcoming decision on U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, is another.
The English-language China Daily criticized Washington for sponsoring a resolution this week condemning Beijing's human rights record at the United Nation's Human Rights Commission.
"This spring is a troubled time for Sino-U.S. relations. If the United States cannot regain a sensible and pragmatic approach ... bilateral ties will suffer and the interests of both countries will be harmed," the commentary said.