Tags: Bugged | Plane | Won't | Derail | U.S.-China | Talks

Bugged Plane Won't Derail U.S.-China Talks

Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News Sunday the talks would probably not be derailed and should proceed next month as planned. China watchers say that overall it's largely a case of "caveat emptor" or buyer beware.

Chinese officials made no comment Sunday on the Western media reports that quoted Chinese officials and sources about the bugging of the plane. But China watchers in Hong Kong and Beijing said that officials in Beijing apparently deliberately released the story less than a month before President George Bush and Jiang are set to meet.

"The onus was on President Jiang Zemin's security staff to supervise the outfitting of the plane and prevent U.S. intelligence agents (from) planting the bugs. A team did travel to the United States for this purpose but the bugs were reportedly only found during checks when the plane was in China," said an analysis in Sunday's South China Morning Post.

The Financial Times of London and the Washington Post said the 20 small bugs were found during test flights in China late last year. One was found in a bathroom and another in the headboard of the presidential bed.

"The timing of the disclosures must, however, raise suspicions that they are designed to cool the currently warm Sino-U.S. relations so close to next month's presidential summit. It is unlikely to be allowed to sour the practical and necessary understanding the two presidents have recently reached," according to a South China Morning Post commentary.

The British and U.S. reports indicated Jiang was furious when the devices were discovered but signs from Washington indicate there has been no official protest from Beijing.

"We never discuss these kinds of allegations," said White House spokesman Taylor Gross.

U.S.-Sino relations have been rocky in the past few years. Last April a Chinese jet fighter collided with a U.S. Navy spy plane over the South China Sea. The U.S. EP-3 plane, damaged in the collision, was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The Chinese jet crashed and the pilot was never found.

China protested that the U.S. plane had violated its air and sovereignty. Washington said it was making a routine flight and that the Chinese pilot had rammed the U.S. plane. The U.S. aircrew and aircraft were held by Chinese authorities for nearly two weeks until Washington said it was sorry for the incident.

"To be caught unaware after the indignation expressed during the EP-3 spying incident in April makes the Chinese side look doubly foolish," said the South China Morning Post's analysis.

The Financial Times and the Washington Post reports said that the Chinese president's plane was built by Boeing but was kitted out with various luxury features by several companies in Texas. The plane's construction took place under the constant supervision of the Chinese. The newspaper reports said the devices were discovered at least three months ago.

Beijing has not raised the issue with Washington since then, which could mean that Chinese officials suspect wrongdoing or negligence on the part of their own people in the affair.

The plane is sitting on an airfield north of Beijing with most of its interior ripped out for further inspection.

Now, the reports say, China is investigating China United Airlines run by the country's air force and China Aviation Supplies Export and Import Corporation, a state-owned entity. Both were held responsible for the ordering and importation of the craft.

The Washington Post's report said when the spying devices were found 20 air force officers were rounded up and two officials who were involved in the deal for the presidential plane were detained on suspicions of negligence and corruption. A senior air force official is also under house arrest for his suspected role in the affair, said the report. Boeing has denied responsibility for the listening devices.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News Sunday the talks would probably not be derailed and should proceed next month as planned. China watchers say that overall it's largely a case of caveat emptor or buyer beware. Chinese officials made no comment Sunday...
Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM
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