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Tuesday, April 03, 2001, updated at 22:01(GMT+8)

Commentary on Collision between US Spy Plane and Chinese Military Jet

"Accident" is apparently the best and only explanation Washington can churn out to explain incidents it thinks might tarnish its fragile international reputation.

Shortly after the weekend's collision between a US Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet, Washington's officials appeared all hot and bothered, and rushed to shrug off responsibility for the incident.

"It was probably an accident caused by the fighter bumping into the American plane," Admiral Dennis Blair, head of the US Pacific Command, told a press conference in Hawaii.

"If I had to guess right now, I would say it was an accident. It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air, it's too dangerous for everybody," he added.

Blair's words may be partly true. The "game" is dangerous because the collision is likely to fray already strained Sino-US relations. But Blair's rhetoric seems more dangerous than the collision itself.

Anyone with common sense can clearly see who should take responsibility for the collision.

The US surveillance plane, an EP-3 which joined the US fleet in 1969, is a version of the P-3 aircraft. It was attached to the VQ-1 electronic countermeasures squadron and flew out of the Kadena Air Base in Japan.

The EP-3 is a four-engine propeller-driven reconnaissance aircraft that uses electronic surveillance equipment to eavesdrop mostly on ships.

The aircraft is widely used by Washington to obtain intelligence.

According to the US Navy, the US EP-3 was in international air space "when it was intercepted by two Chinese F-8 fighters." Shortly after, it issued a "Mayday" distress signal before making an emergency landing on an airfield on Hainan. The incident occurred at about 9:15 am local time (0115 GMT) on Sunday.

The collision occurred 104 kilometres southeast of Hainan. According to Chinese pilots, it was the US surveillance plane's sudden veer towards the Chinese aircraft that led to the "accident." The nose and left wing of the US plane hit one of the Chinese fighters and caused it to crash.

The US plane was doing surveillance over Chinese waters and it was only natural for Chinese military jets to track the US surveillance plane.

Without permission from Chinese side, the US surveillance plane intruded into China's airspace and made an emergency landing in Hainan.

The Chinese side has every reason to lodge a solemn protest, and it has the right to seek compensation from the US for damages caused by the "mistakes" of its pilots.

Blair complained that "routine Chinese interceptions" had become more aggressive over the past several months "to the point that we felt that they were endangering the safety of American aircraft."

But Blair seems to be confused about who is endangering whom.

EP-3's surveillance over Chinese territory as "a routine part of US naval operations worldwide" as Washington claims constitutes a serious threat to China's national security.

Washington's claim that the collision was a result of the Chinese jet bumping the US plane accidentally only attests to US arrogance in managing bilateral relations.

When the collision occurred, Washington did not express any willingness to join Chinese efforts in rescuing the Chinese pilot, who is still missing nor did it show any concern for him. The only concern of officials in Washington is how soon the Chinese Government will return the US Navy surveillance plane and its 24 crew members, whom the Chinese side has taken good care of.

Washington's frosty response towards the Chinese pilot's predicament is indicative of the double standard the United States has adopted on human rights.

In Washington's eyes, their citizens' lives are more valuable than others'.

Washington's indifference to people's lives from other countries is actually nothing new.

Most will remember that one month ago Washington took a similar stance towards the accidental sinking of a Japanese trawler by a US submarine off Hawaii.

The submarine, the USS Greeneville, stopped in the area where the Japanese ship sank, but its crew allegedly did nothing to help the survivors.

Washington claimed it was an accident, but that empty explanation was hardly convincing to the Japanese, who raged against the presence of US troops in Okinawa.

Two years ago, a US plane on a NATO mission bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999, an act which claimed the lives of three Chinese journalists. Washington's explanation? An accident. But who believes a country with the world's most sophisticated technology is capable of making so many accidental moves?

Making mistakes is natural. But always making mistakes detrimental to other countries' interests or other people's lives is hardly responsible international behaviour.

Source: China Daily

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"Accident" is apparently the best and only explanation Washington can churn out to explain incidents it thinks might tarnish its fragile international reputation.

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