"According to our lawyers, the aircraft enjoys sovereign immune status," Cmdr. John Singley, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command based in Hawaii, told the New York Times. "This precludes foreign officials from searching, inspecting or detaining the aircraft without U.S. consent."
The plane, an EP-3E Aries II turboprop aircraft jammed with top secret surveillance equipment, must not be boarded or searched without the permission of the United States, officials said.
The downing of the plane, which the U.S. insists was the result of aggressive action by the two jet fighters, is the latest incident involving the shadowing of American surveillance aircraft by Chinese planes.
The incident took place while the unarmed plane was on a routine surveillance mission off the shoreline and over the South China Sea, where the U.S. has every right to fly, Washington officials said.
The U.S. has long asserted its right under international law to patrol the high seas using ships, planes and submarines.
"This is a tragic military accident that could have been avoided if Chinese pilots had respected the laws of international air space," Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters.
"China, as an emerging military power, appears in the eyes of military persons the world over very unprofessional, unless it comes forward promptly with an accurate explanation of the incident and returns our aircraft and crew."
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