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Bush responds to letter from Chinese pilot's wife

Ruan Guoqin
Ruan Guoqin, wife of missing Chinese pilot Wang Wei  


WASHINGTON -- As U.S. President George W. Bush responded to a letter from the wife of a missing Chinese pilot, Cabinet officials Sunday warned Beijing that prolonging the standoff over the crew of a U.S. Navy spy plane will damage long-term ties between the two nations.

Bush sent the letter expressing his "regret" to the wife for her loss Sunday, CNN has learned.

On Friday, the White House received a letter from Ruan Guoqin, whose husband Wang Wei went missing after his Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 Aries II electronic surveillance plane over the South China Sea on April 1.

China says the U.S. plane veered into its F-8 fighter, sending it crashing into the sea. The U.S. says the jet flew too close to the Navy plane, forcing it to perform an emergency landing on the nearby Chinese island of Hainan, where the aircraft and its 24 crew members are being detained. The U.S. has refused Chinese demands to issue a public apology for the incident.

Negotiations for the crew's release were continuing in both Beijing and Washington.

Listen to Condoleezza Rice on CNN's "Late Edition" regarding the standoff between the United States and China

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Ruan's letter accused Bush of handling the standoff in a "cowardly" fashion. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," characterized Bush's response letter as "very personal" and "not part of the political exchange," but White House officials disclosed no details.

"I think this is typical of President Bush and the kind of compassion that he shows to people," he said.

Bush's letter was sent via State Department cable Sunday evening to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which was expected to print it and deliver it to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

It will be up to Chinese officials to decide whether to deliver the letter -- which will not bear the President's signature -- to the pilot's wife, White House sources told CNN.

Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on "Meet the Press," issued a warning about larger consequences stemming from the collision.

"From the time standpoint, this is a matter that needs to be resolved as soon as possible," Cheney said. "There is a risk to the long-term relationship with China for each day that it goes unresolved. It is not in our interest, nor is it in the long-term interest of China, to have that happen."

Top U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said they regret the apparent loss of the Chinese plane and its pilot in the incident. But they insist the United States will not issue an apology.

"We were within international waters, we were within international airspace, when this incident occurred," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN. "An apology is not forthcoming."

Powell warned China that trade ties between the two countries could suffer from an extended impasse.

Congress voted to normalize trade with China in a hard-won vote last year. But in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Powell warned that U.S. support for open trade -- including China's entry into the World Trade Organization -- could be jeopardized if the Navy plane's crew is not returned soon.

"We are still supporting access to WTO, but I can say that if we have to go for a vote on normal trading relations again, this situation has not improved their chances of winning that again," Powell said.

Powell: "We have no reason to apologize, and they feel strongly about it, so we're trying to work our way through that"  

"So the relationship is being damaged. The damage can be undone. But in order for the damage to be undone and no further damage to occur, we've got to bring this matter to a close as soon as possible," he said.

But Powell also struck a conciliatory note in what State Department officials called a deliberate attempt to satisfy China's call for an expression of remorse by the United States.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Powell said, "We have expressed regrets and we have expressed our sorrow, and we are sorry that the life was lost." He used similar language in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

For the last week, the Bush administration has been trying to find just the right words necessary to strike a balance between Chinese demands and the U.S. insistence that the collision was an accident.

Hyde: 'I would call them hostages'

Other U.S. leaders have stepped up the rhetoric on their own, with one key lawmaker characterizing the detained crew members as hostages.

"I would call them hostages. They're being held against their will," House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde told CNN.


"I think if we get into the middle of next week and the personnel are still being held, the intensity of this and the danger escalates," Hyde, R-Illinois, added.

And Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, a prominent Democratic moderate, said: "It's proper and appropriate to remind the Chinese about what they get out of solid relations with the United States."

"Their trading relations with us are very, very important, and I think that the United States wants to trade with people they can cooperate with or we can depend on," Breaux said. "They should be mindful of that as these negotiations continue."

But Cheney urged caution as talks with Beijing continued.

"One of the things that you have to be very careful about as we go through this whole process is that it's important that there be quiet diplomacy to get it resolved -- that the situation not be inflamed, especially by some of the press coverage and the commentary," he said.

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The Pentagon
U.S. Navy
Navy Fact File: EP-3E ORION (ARIES II) Aircraft
U.S. Department of Defense
Government of China (in Chinese)
U.S. Department of State
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S.A.
Government Information Office, Republic of China

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