In a move sure to raise the temperature in the already tense diplomatic standoff, Powell called the continued detention of the crew unacceptable, and said the United States would put increasing pressure on the Chinese until they were released.
"We have nothing to apologize for," Powell told reporters returning with him from Florida Tuesday afternoon.
"We did not do anything wrong. Our airplane was in international airspace; an accident took place … there is nothing to apologize for."
Commenting on reports that the Chinese have described the crew as being held in protective custody, Powell said, "If the Chinese say they are being protected, I don't know from what."
"In my judgment, they're being detained," he added. "They're being held incommunicado, under circumstances which I don't find acceptable."
Powell's comments echo growing U.S. impatience with the refusal of the Chinese to return either the crew or the plane – packed with secret American surveillance technology – which made an emergency landing at a Chinese air base at Lingshui on Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, after a collision Sunday with a Chinese fighter jet sent to intercept it.
"We have waited for the Chinese government to do the right thing. But now it is time for our servicemen and women to return home,'' President Bush said earlier Tuesday.
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