"We certainly have not offered any compensation for the aircraft, or anything other than the costs that are associated with its recovery," he said.
Chinese officials had announced earlier Sunday that they would allow U.S. officials to inspect the Navy's EP-3 plane, which made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island on April 1, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The U.S. plane's 24-member crew was released after several days' detention.
It is not known whether the plane, forced down in a midair collision whose cause is in dispute, will be returned, as Washington has demanded, but Chinese officials said meetings of officials from each side were continuing.
"Having completed its investigation and evidence collection involving the U.S. plane, and in view of international precedents in handling such issues, the Chinese side has decided to allow the U.S. side to inspect its plane at Lingshui airport," Xinhua reported.
"According to some sources, the two sides will continue their discussions for the final settlement of the issue concerning the U.S. reconnaissance plane," the report added.
The report also reiterated China's view that the collision between the EP-3 and a Chinese fighter jet was the fault of the U.S. pilot. The United States maintains that the crash, in which the Chinese pilot was killed, was caused by his own dangerous maneuvers.
The Xinhua report gave no time frame for the inspection. Cheney said he saw the announcement as a sign that China would be willing to return the plane.
"As we've said all along, we do want our aircraft back," the vice president said in an appearance on the television program "Fox News Sunday."
"And the fact that they have now announced that they're willing to have U.S. personnel go in and look at the aircraft, and assess what it's going to take to get it back, I think is very positive."
He said the United States would send a team to inspect the plane once the Chinese accede, but repeated that the plane must be returned.
Cheney cautioned, however, that while Washington was willing to pay "legitimate" costs associated with recovering and transporting the EP-3, probably on a barge, it would draw the line there.
Cheney, who served as defense secretary during the administration of President Bush's father, said the Chinese had "obviously got a good look at the airplane," but did not know how much intelligence might have been gleaned. He reiterated reports that the spy plane's crew had managed to destroy much of its sensitive information just before landing.
"Now, exactly what was left that they were able to take advantage of, we're still doing the damage assessment ... I would assume they got something ... but the really sensitive stuff -- things like software and so forth -- I think were pretty well taken care of."
The collision presented Bush with the first major foreign policy crisis of his 100-day-old presidency, at a time of already-strained relations with China. The rhetoric flared anew last week when Bush said the United States was prepared to do "whatever it took" to protect Taiwan from an act of aggression by Beijing. Bush's comments were a departure from the deliberate ambiguities of past presidents on U.S. defense policy toward Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.
U.S. administrations, including Bush's, have long assured China that Washington respects the concept of "one China."
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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