Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao called Washington's official response to the incident over the South China Sea so far "unacceptable" and highly unsatisfactory.
"Where is the responsibility? I think it's very clear," Zhu said late Monday during President Jiang Zemin's visit to Argentina.
"We ask the United States to take responsibility for this incident in a clear and active way by apologizing to the Chinese people," the spokesman said.
President Bush said Monday the United States and China have every diplomatic channel open to resolve the stalemate. He acknowledged that diplomacy takes time but warned that bilateral relations could be damaged if the crew members are not freed soon.
But the New York Times reported Tuesday that Bush's senior advisers have concluded for now that the most severe acts of retaliation that they could threaten – selling advanced arms to Taiwan, restricting trade, derailing Beijing's bid for the Olympics – would not speed the release of the crew and could harm longer-term interests in Asia.
One official involved in the first review of those options said that "it became clear how little room for maneuver either side has" in a relationship that is "this interdependent and complex," the report said.
The Navy plane made an emergency landing on China's southern Hainan Island following the collision. The Chinese fighter crashed, and its pilot is missing and presumed dead.
Chinese officials Monday allowed U.S. diplomats to meet the crew for a fourth time. "We are glad to report they are in excellent health, their spirits are extremely high and we had a good conversation for about 40 minutes as a group," said U.S. Defense Attache Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock. Meanwhile, in a shift in the U.S. position toward China, the State Department has encouraged lawmakers to cancel planned trips there in light of the standoff, a senior state department official told UPI.
The official noted Monday that "most of the congressional delegations had decided not to go before consulting us. In all cases we made sure to say it was their decision, but when asked directly for advice we said it was probably not a good time to go." This official added that the advice hinged on the fact that diplomatic negotiations over the EP-3 surveillance plane and its 24-person crew remained unresolved.
In at least one case, Secretary of State Colin Powell personally advised a lawmaker leading a delegation against going to China, the official said.
This appears to represent a significant shift of the administration's position toward China. On April 5, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters, "The White House is not objecting to any trips that lawmakers have to China."
To date, separate congressional delegations led by Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, Don Nichols, R-Ok., Richard Shelby R-Ala., and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., have canceled trips to China. In addition, a conference arranged by the Aspen Institute for 20 U.S. lawmakers in China has also been scuttled. All of the cancellations are a result of the current dispute over the EP-3 and its crew.
"It was Senator Shelby's thought that there would be nothing to discuss with Beijing when they were holding 24 American servicemen and servicewomen," his spokeswoman, Andrea Andrews, told UPI.
"This was a low-profile delegation," said the Aspen Institute's spokesman, James Spiegelman. "Had this not had happened during the course of the spy plane incident, this would have gone on with very little fanfare."
The canceled trips, however, may be only the tip of the iceberg in freezing U.S.-China relations. After a bitter congressional fight over Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China last year, some U.S. lawmakers who supported the bill are changing their minds. Because Beijing is not likely to gain full membership in the World Trade Organization in time, Congress may well have another bite at the China trade apple this year.
Last year PNTR passed the House by 237 votes to 197, so if only 20 votes flip this year, the House could vote to reverse that position. House International Relations Committee chairman, Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who supported PNTR last year, changed his position last week in light of the current row.
China insists the Navy plane veered suddenly into a Chinese fighter, sending it plunging into the South China Sea. China is still searching for the pilot, Wang Wei.
Although China blames the United States for the collision, Washington says it was the Chinese fighter jet that hit the U.S. aircraft in an accident over international waters.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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