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Special Event

President Bush Addresses U.S.-China Tensions

Aired April 2, 2001 - 11:37 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's go back now to our senior White House correspondent John King there at the White House, as we wait for President Bush. We expect him to come out in about a minute or so, as we were given the warning a little bit -- a little while ago.

Well, John, do we know exactly what he is going to say about this? I know you say he is not going to necessarily raise the tensions any higher than they are right now. He is going to low key this whole thing. But how exactly will he do that?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect him to echo the -- here we see here the president walking out. Let's just listen in.

HARRIS: Let's find out.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Late Saturday night, in Washington, Sunday morning in China, a United States Naval maritime patrol aircraft on a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the South China Sea collided with one of two Chinese fighters that were shadowing our plane. Both our aircraft and a Chinese aircraft were damaged in the collision. Our aircraft made an emergency landing in an airfield on China's Hainan Island.

We have been in contact with the Chinese government about this incident since Saturday night. From our own information, we know that the United States naval plane landed safely. Our embassy in Beijing has been told by the Chinese government that all 24 crew members are safe. Our priorities are the prompt and safe return of the crew and the return of the aircraft without further damaging or tampering.

The first step should be immediate access by our embassy personnel to our crew members. I am troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response to our request for this access. Our embassy officials are on the ground and prepared to visit the crew and aircraft as soon as the Chinese government allows them to do so. And I call on the Chinese government to grant this access promptly.

Failure of the Chinese government to react promptly to our request is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice and with the expressed desire of both our countries for better relations.

Finally, we have offered to provide search and rescue assistance to help the Chinese government locate its missing aircraft and pilot. Our military stands ready to help.

Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are they hostages, sir? Do you consider them hostages? Did the Chinese board the aircraft?

HARRIS: All right, we just heard President Bush make his statement. And he's not taking any questions -- John.

KING: Well, Leon, the sensitivity of this issue one of the reasons the president not taking any questions -- the president's tone quite measured, but his words there quite strong in what he said to the Chinese government. He said the priorities were to have the safe return of the 24 crewmembers as quickly as possible.

And also notice, when the president said the United States wanted the safe return of that airplane, he said that he wanted done without any further damage or -- quote -- "tampering" -- U.S. concerns there, of course, that the Chinese military might want to take a look at the advanced U.S. technology on this U.S. spy plane -- the president also saying he was troubled by the Chinese's failure to respond in what he said was a timely manner to the U.S. request, so that U.S. diplomats could get access to the crewmembers and access to the airplane -- U.S. officials saying that this is a critical day.

In the next few hours, they will get a sense of whether the Chinese want to quickly put this episode behind them and release the crew and the airplane, or whether there might be some prolonged confrontation here at what was already a very difficult time in U.S.- Chinese relations: tensions over the recent defection of a top Chinese military official; tensions over the arrest and detainment of some U.S. academics in China; and, of course, tension from the Chinese side, as the U.S. considers whether to sell some more advances weapons, including a very advanced, sophisticated radar system to the government of Taiwan.

So this a key episode -- this one particular episode comes at a very dramatic moment in U.S.-Chinese relations.

HARRIS: Well, John, one thing that I noticed that he did not say who was anything about who was at fault here or anything else about whether or not this happened over international waters, or who may be -- who may actually be harmed in this instance. And is there a sense, then, that that is not to come from the White House at all at any point?

KING: What the administration hopes is that this will be quickly resolved, and that it can just go ahead with the position that this was an accident. The Chinese claim this air space as their own. But the United States and many other governments reject that claim. They view it as international air space and international waters.

That is a disagreement that will not be resolved because of this episode. What the U.S. is hoping here is that the crewmembers are released, the plane is released, and that, from the U.S. standpoint, anyway, this can be described as an unfortunate accident, and that, by the end of the day, or within a day or so, the United States could be thanking the Chinese government for a quick response.

But, for right now, you heard the president using quite direct language in saying he's troubled by the lack of what he considers to be a timely response from the Chinese government right now, saying that what the United States is not hearing from the Chinese officials -- access to crewmembers, access to plane -- in the view of the United States violates long-established diplomatic procedures.

HARRIS: Senior White House correspondent John King, thanks much, as always.

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