For the first time since the US aircrew detained in China
returned to American shores, officials from the two countries will
meet here today to discuss what happened and how to proceed.
Three items are on China's agenda: the cause of the crash, the
fate of US EP-3E plane now at a Hainan airbase, and - perhaps the
issue China feels most strongly about - addressing the "double
standard" for US military flights near its coast.
Under US laws governing its own Air Defense Identification Zone,
military planes from other nations entering a 200-mile radius of US
shores must first identify themselves. Otherwise, they are
intercepted and "escorted."
China is now claiming a similar standard, and questioning whether
US military planes can fly, as they have been doing for decades, in
what China claims as its 200-mile "exclusive economic zone" (EEZ)
off China's coast. "The US should stop these flights.... They
constitute a threat to China's security," said foreign ministry
spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue yesterday.
Whether the two sides will actually conduct a serious open-ended
questioning of what actually happened on April 1, with the idea of
establishing a new basis for discussions, is in question. China's
rhetoric regarding a "bullying" America has increased in recent
days, turning the pilot Wang Wei, whose jet collided with the EP-
3E, into a something of an "anti-American" hero.
Yet China has signaled to US officials that it wants a
"straightforward" discussion, which might be something other than a
shouting match about blame.
More than dealing with just this incident, at issue is China's
desire to more fully control all aspects of security in its region -
with the US Pacific Fleet, which oversees security from Korea to
Australia, as the potentially "hostile" power. (The Liberation Army
Daily newspaper yesterday described the US, in fact, as "a powerful
enemy.") The US-implied defense of Taiwan, as mandated by US law,
is a major thorn in China's paw.
Many international legal experts say that under "customary law,"
China does not have a strong case on its 200-mile airspace point.
China would have had to protest vigorously and publicly on many
occasions prior to this incident to suddenly make such a claim.
Most of the laws relating to these EEZs relate to whether or not
foreign vessels are causing harm to the economic interests of the
sea and the marine life in the zone. China's positions have
extended this law to airspace.
The already controversial incident has raised a potential double
standard - since according to US laws "any foreign planes" coming
within 200 miles of the US must "obey the procedures the US has
prescribed," as explained in a long published tract by Chinese legal
expert Li Qin.
The US laws are in place to stop potential supersonic flights of
craft that could carry lethal weapons. US air defense interceptor
jets scramble to check out various planes that come close to its
zone, or that dance in and out of it.
Such flights are quite unlike a slow-moving turboprop aircraft
like the EP-3E, whose presence is flagged far ahead of time by