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Bush takes 'tough' China stance as crew returns to U.S.

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President Bush talks with the crew of the U.S. Navy aircraft after they arrived in Hawaii on Thursday  

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Bush: Flights 'maintain peace and stability'

'A great morning here in Hawaii'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hours after freed U.S. crew members returned to the United States, President George W. Bush on Thursday announced a "tough" stance with China during upcoming talks.

Bush said U.S. and Chinese representatives would discuss the collision and related matters at a meeting on April 18.

"From all the evidence we've seen, the United States aircraft was operating in international air space in full accordance with all laws and regulations and did nothing to cause the accident," Bush told reporters during his remarks at the White House Rose Garden.

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U.S. President Bush speaks about what he told the U.S. crew and on relations with China

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The crew get off the plane in Hawaii and is greeted by a ceremony of pomp and circumstance while loved ones look on

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CNN's Jeff Flock interviews the father of U.S. Navy pilot Shane Osborn

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image Images of the crew's return

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 • About freighter returning EP-3
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"I will ask our United States representative to ask the tough questions about China's recent practice of challenging United States aircraft operating legally in international air space."

The U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea on April 1, forcing the U.S. pilot to make an emergency landing in China.

China detained the crew until Wednesday.

Washington calls the collision an accident resulting from a tactic by Chinese pilots to fly dangerously close to U.S. aircraft near its borders.

China blames the United States for the collision, saying that the U.S. Navy EP-3E aircraft veered into the Chinese F-8 fighter, sending the jet and pilot Wang Wei crashing into the sea. Wang remains missing and is presumed dead.

China claims air space over the entire South China Sea as part of its territory, while the U.S. recognizes the international standard 12-mile limit from the Chinese border.

Bush: Flights 'maintain peace and stability'

Bush defended the military flight missions as a vital way to obtain information for the United States and its allies.

"Reconnaissance flights are part of a comprehensive national security strategy that helps maintain peace and stability in our world," he said.

The issue of returning the impounded U.S. aircraft also will be on the agenda of U.S. representatives at the April 18 talks, a U.S. spokesman told CNN.

International policy experts said China's decision to release the U.S. crew may have eased tensions somewhat, but the two countries need to work on building better relations.

"The crux of this dispute is not resolved, regardless of the release of the crew," James Hsiung, a professor at New York University, told CNN. Hsiung warned of a "bumpy road" ahead for the two countries. (More on this story)

'A great morning here in Hawaii'

"It is a great morning here in Hawaii," Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, said earlier during a welcoming ceremony for the crew at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Hundreds of cheering military personnel and civilian workers at the base greeted the returning fliers. "It's my privilege to welcome the return of this courageous crew."

The Navy pilot, Marine Lt. Shane Osborn, led the 21 men and three women off the transport plane -- the "Spirit of Bob Hope" -- that brought them to Hawaii on an eight-hour flight from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

"We're definitely glad to be back," Osborn said. "On behalf of Combat Reconnaissance Crew One, I'd like to thank you once again, and God bless America."

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Members of the U.S. crew are greeted by military brass at the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii on Thursday  

Osborn's parents, Doug and Diane Osborn, watched the crew's arrival from their home in Norfolk, Nebraska. (More on this story)

In Hawaii the crew will undergo two days of intensive debriefings, both on their actions before and after the collision and on what Chinese investigators asked them during their detention.

On Saturday morning the crew is scheduled to board a flight to their aircraft's home base on Whidbey Island in Washington, where they will be reunited with their families. The Navy is offering free transportation to Whidbey for all the crew members' families -- and each member of the crew will be given a 30-day leave.

CNN Correspondents Kelly Wallace, Rusty Dornin and Marina Kamimura contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
USCINCPAC Homepage
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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