China Grants U.S. Fourth Meeting With Crew; Pushes for Investigation
BEIJING – American diplomats pressed on Sunday for daily access to a detained U.S. air crew, while China's top military newspaper said Beijing had the right to "thoroughly investigate" the crew members.
China told U.S. diplomats they would be allowed to meet the American crew later Monday, although no details were provided on when. The meeting would be the fourth since the crew was detained after making an emergency landing on Hainan Island after an April 1 collision with a Chinese fighter jet.
The Liberation Army Daily also demanded an end to spy flights near China's coast. The paper's comments added to evidence that China's influential military is pushing for a hard line against Washington and might be obstructing a settlement. The newspaper is published by the military, and its contents are approved by senior commanders.
"China has the right to fully and thoroughly investigate this entire incident, including the American military aircraft and the people in charge of it," the Liberation Army Daily said. "The U.S. government should ... immediately stop all military surveillance activities off the Chinese coast."
Meanwhile, crew members of the U.S. Navy EP-3E were entering their second week of captivity on Hainan island in the South China Sea.
The EP-3E is believed to have been monitoring military radio, radar and other signals when it collided with one of two Chinese fighter jets sent to track it. The Chinese pilot is missing.
The Chinese permitted U.S. diplomats to meet with eight crew members Sunday, said Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, on CNN's "Late Edition." Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock had initially asked to see the entire 24-member crew, she said.
In a brief statement to the press early Sunday, Sealock said the crew members were in "high spirits," but did not give any indication that he had not seen the entire crew.
The United States chose the eight -- a mix of junior and senior staffers, and the pilot, several officials said.
"They were not chosen for us to see, so we have some comfort that they were representative of the condition of the crew in general," Rice said on CNN. "But it isn't helpful, obviously, when General Sealock asked to see the entire crew, if he sees only eight."
In Beijing, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher said diplomats were waiting for a Chinese response to a request to see them twice a day.
"We're working away and we're making good progress," Prueher told reporters Monday morning.
Chinese authorities have confirmed they questioned the U.S. crew. They accuse the pilot of breaking the law by making an emergency landing at a Chinese air base without applying in advance for permission.
The White House has declined to apologize for the incident, saying it believes the collision was an accident. But on Saturday, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chi Haotian said the army wouldn't let Washington "shirk responsibility." And Chinese civilian leaders could be unwilling to oppose the military on such an emotional issue for fear of looking weak before major leadership changes to be decided next year at a Communist Party congress.
A search for the missing Chinese fighter pilot entered its eighth day, though rescuers said there was little hope he had survived so long on the open sea.
Analysts have said China's military is unlikely to agree to release the Americans until the fate of its pilot is known. State media reports have mentioned his low chances of survival, possibly trying to prepare the public for declaring him dead.
"After a week, there's not much of a chance," said Wang Chunqiong, a fisherman in Xinhua, near Haikou, the capital of Hainan island. "Over there the waves are big. The sea is deep. It's the open sea and there are sharks."
In his first public comments on the dispute, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said Monday that he hoped Washington and Beijing would quickly resolve the impasse and that it would not cause the United States to cut back on arms sales to Taipei.