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U.S.-China Relations Strained by Plane Collision Standoff

Aired April 12, 2001 - 08:30   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S.-China relations are strained by the plane collision standoff, and that strain may not be eased in the immediate future.

But our senior Asia correspondent Mike Chinoy says this latest confrontation focuses Washington and Beijing on the importance of a working relationship -- Mike Chinoy reports from Hong Kong.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First, there was Tiananmen Square and a wave of American outrage over China's bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Then, a decade later, the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade triggered a wave of Chinese anger against the United States.

Now, the spy plane crisis has spawned harsh feelings in both countries and called the future of Sino-American relations into question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In both China and in the United States, the people feel very strongly against each other, with strong senses of nationalism -- in both countries.

CHINOY: And yet, ironically, the episode, with its compromise ending, has served to underscored how much both governments value their relationship.

For the Bush administration, the crisis showed the importance of being able to work with China, whatever the campaign rhetoric about strategic competition. And for China's president, Jiang Zemin, retreat from a demand for a full-fledged American apology indicated recognition of how important the United States is for China's future hopes of development.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is of paramount importance to those goals. Without a good Sino-American relationship, China cannot expect a peaceful international environment, and China cannot expect ample assistance from the West in support of China's economic modernization and opening to the external world.

CHINOY: But this confrontation was different from earlier ones because, as the diplomats talked, it became clear that fundamental and competing interests were at stake. Chinese armed forces, with their demand for an end to U.S. surveillance flights are trying to limit American power in the Pacific. The United States is trying to monitor the development of China's military capabilities.

It's a clash that's likely to be played out on other issues in the coming months, like Taiwan's request to buy advanced U.S. weapons systems and China's ambitions to play a dominant role in the South China Sea.


More than 20 years after the establishment of formal diplomatic ties, the United States and China are linked by a web of relationships so complex that a complete rupture would be extraordinarily painful for both sides. Yet the inevitable tension between the world's sole superpower and its largest rising power almost guarantees that this confrontation won't be the last one -- Carol.

LIN: So Mike, considering all of that, do you have any idea or a sense of how that meeting is going to go, on the 18th, between the China and the United States.

CHINOY: It's likely to be a tough meeting. The Chinese and United States are going to thrash out their different versions of what happened, and both sides have totally different versions of what happened. In addition, the Chinese are going to push their demand that U.S. surveillance flights cease, and United States has already made it absolutely clear that's not going to happen. Indeed, one of the very interesting questions now is when will the next flight be, and how will China respond?

So it's likely to be a contentious meeting, but hopefully, the two sides can at least begin discussion on a mechanism to ensure that when the Chinese planes come up to intercept the U.S. surveillance flights, they'll have some ground rules to ensure that they don't run into one another, as we saw a week ago last Sunday -- Carol.

LIN: We shall see. Thank you very much, Mike Chinoy, reporting live from Hong Kong -- Colleen.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: So a lot hinges on U.S.-China relations: the future of trade, arms sales to Taiwan, China's bid for the Olympic games -- all kinds of things are still on the table between the two countries.

Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joins us now from Richmond to talk about this relationship.

Senator Allen, thanks for being here.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: My pleasure -- good morning.

MCEDWARDS: Good morning.

In terms of relations between the two countries, this really is so complex. You have new administration, you have new people on the Chinese side in Washington, and you have this incident that involves human lives on both sides. So what now?

ALLEN: Well, what now? Fortunately, the 24 crew members are coming home, and that's the most important thing. Americans very much value our airmen and airwomen and soldiers, so that's very important.

Nevertheless, this has not been beneficial to Chinese and American relations. Obviously, we have an interest in being engaged with China. It is good that they want to modernize their economy. They are good markets for our farmers and different things that are produced and manufactured in our country. It's good for our consumers.

On the other hand, we do have to care about human rights. And I think we ought to. And we also ought to care about the Chinese and their buildup of their armaments, as well as the transfer of armaments to countries and entities that are hostile to the United States and our allies.

MCEDWARDS: I want to talk about that in just a minute, but you mentioned that it makes sense to engage China. I know that has been your position, despite some misgivings in the past about trade. Leading up to this, several members of Congress were taking strong moves, saying strong things, and canceling trips they had planned. Should that kind of thing continue, then, or is it time to reengage, if you will?

ALLEN: I think we need to be engaged, and I'm particularly engaged on a matter that's still an incident and a concern, the life of a woman named Gao Zhan, whose son's a 5-year-old American citizen who lives in northern Virginia who had been detained for 26 days away from his mother and father. His father was detained and has been made a U.S. citizen. He was detained for 26 days. She's been now detained for nearly 60 days, and they have not allowed our Embassy or even the Red Cross to see Gao Zhan.

So I've introduced legislation to effectuate her intent and desires to become a United States citizen. She has been in our country for over 10 years. She was an adjunct professor at American University. They charged her, just very recently, after holding her for six or seven weeks. They charged her with espionage.

So there are other incidents, there are other concerns that still need to be resolved.

MCEDWARDS: But Senator Allen, aren't you back to the same old question, then? How do you engage a country that has human rights record that isn't good?

ALLEN: It's very, very difficult, Colleen. Now, they talk about trying to get the Olympics in Beijing. They're competing with Paris, Toronto, and Osaka, Japan. I think it makes it very difficult for them to say this is a nice place to come and visit to see Olympic games when academics are rounded up and they trump up some charges and hold them without any sort of the legal protections that we are accustomed to in most civilized and enlightened nations.

MCEDWARDS: Senator Allen, on the issue of Taiwan, it wants the United States to help it arm itself better to protect itself against China. How do you feel this incident will affect the potential outcome of that, when it comes up in Congress, in just a few weeks?

ALLEN: Another very good question, Colleen. As far as I'm concerned, I was for selling defensive equipment to Taiwan before this incident occurred. This only, I think, fortifies those of us who think Taiwan has a just cause and a just reason to be fearful of adventuristic and aggressive activity from the People's Republic of China. So I think that this probably will bolster the case, but it doesn't have any impact on me, since I was for the sale of those defensive armaments in the first place.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Senator George Allen of Virginia, thanks very much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Colleen.



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