10 April 2001. Addendum 12 April.


The facts.

A slow, propellor driven, unarmed, radio airplane owned by the USA had a collision with a Chinese jet fighter that was buzzing it.  The collision happened some hundreds of kilometers from land.  The fighter went down, and neither wreckage or body have been found.

The Chinese government claims that the US airplane turned suddenly and collided with their fighter.  Initially the Chinese held the US crew incommunicado, while at the same time insisting that the USA say they were "sorry".   I can't quite figure out how the USA would have known who was to blame until they talked to their pilots.  In the meantime the Chinese indulged in bellicose & provocative name calling.

The US government was rebuffed when it offered within hours to help find the Chinese pilot.  The US offered regrets for the loss of the aircraft and the pilot.  The US is insisting on it's right to talk with the crew.

There is not much more to say.  It can be expected that the USA will continue to pressure for the return of their crew and plane.

Some members of the US congress are reported to consider that the crew are being held as hostages against a requirement that the USA stop it's flights some hundreds of kilometers off the Chinese coast.  Others suspect that the Chinese do not want the USA to support Taiwan.  Perhaps the Chinese do not realize that their paid for to be elected Clinton is no longer in the White house?

It seems unlikely that the Bush USA would allow itself to be so blackmailed.  Members of the US military forces know what to expect.  Military people know it mandatory to consider that the hostages are already dead.  The Chinese fighter has performed an act of war by forcing an unarmed aircraft to land.  Nobody in the world would think otherwise.

Perhaps it is the Chinese who should be apologizing and offering compensation.

Later:- 12 April 2001.  The US has sent the following letter to the Chinese:

Dear Mr. Minister,

On behalf of the United States government, I now outline steps to resolve this issue.

Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft.   Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of the pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.
Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures. We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China's efforts to see to the well being of our crew.

In view of the tragic incident and based on my discussions with your representative, we have agreed to the following actions:

Both sides agree to hold a meeting to discuss the incident. My government understands and expects that our crew will be permitted to depart China as soon as possible.

The meeting would start April 18, 2001.

The meeting agenda would include discussion of the cause of the incident, possible recommendations whereby such collisions could be avoided in the future, development of a plan for prompt return of the EP-3's aircraft, and other related issues. We acknowledge your government's intention to raise U.S. reconnaissance missions near China in the meeting.

             Sincerely, Joseph W. Prueher

The words "very sorry for" appear twice.

The Oxford dictionary believes "sorry" derives from sore, an in a wound.  It means pained or regretful or penitent.

The first "sorry" is concerned with the loss of the pilot.  By saying "very sorry for" there is the ambiguous implication that either the US government is penitent, (as in "I am very sorry for being a bad boy") or that the US government is pained & extends it's sympathy, (As in "I heard that your partner died.  I am very sorry for you".)

The second "very sorry for" was unambiguously a penitence for overflying Chinese territory and landing a severely crippled aircraft without permission.  There is ambiguity as to when the overflying happened.

For home consumption the Chinese have made the USA admit to two "very sorry"s.

The Chinese interpretation would be that the USA accepts blame for the collision, and that the overflying was prior to the collision.

The USA has stated that it is pained for the loss of the pilot, and believes that the Chinese were to blame for the collision (by buzzing too close), and that the collision was over open seas, so the trespass to airspace and airport resulted from the collision.

For two "very sorry for"s the USA got back twenty-two hostages.

There is a principle in English law, which is that any deal that the state makes with a criminal while under duress (as in hostages) is void.

Apparently nothing of strategic substance has been admitted or yielded.  The USA will continue spy flights as before, perhaps with armed escort in future.  As a result of this effort Taiwan will undoubtedly get Aegis warships, perhaps all four that it has requested.


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