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U.S. Crew Members Leave Guam for Hawaii

Aired April 12, 2001 - 04:30   ET



SHEEHAB RATTANSI, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in Rebecca MacKinnon, who's in Beijing, who's been monitoring events from over there -- Rebecca, as the crew members begin their journey or continue their journey back to the U.S., would you say that the Chinese leadership could safely say that they've achieved their ends in this whole incident?

REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that is certainly the way it's being played here, at least the first step. But the Chinese leadership is also making very clear that it does not feel that this situation, that the spy plane controversy is over for China in any way. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji just today speaking with the U.N. General Assembly president who is visiting, said that all responsibilities for the incident lie with the U.S. side.

It's very clear that China is still very intent on getting the United States to accept more responsibility for the collision that happened and that the departure of these crew members is not closure at all for China. The fighter pilot, Wang Wei, is still listed as missing. The search is still continuing for him, even though the people involved with the search are saying that they feel there's very little hope of finding him alive at this point. And so that has not closed either for the Chinese.

Wang Wei is beginning to be eulogized in the Chinese media now as a hero and as a victim, really, of U.S. aggression. So there's still a lot of hard feelings here -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: I mean do you think, having gone through this incident, then, that the U.S. and China are likely to treat each other more cautiously then over the next few months, and, of course a lot of key decisions about to be made, and -- or that whether the U.S. will probably take a harder line as a result of what may be seen as Chinese, the Chinese detaining their crew members and that sort of thing. I mean which way can it go now?

MACKINNON: Well, Sheehab, it's very interesting. This really has been a crash course for the Bush administration, just came into office recently, a crash course in how to deal with their Chinese counterparts. This was really the first true situation between the U.S. and China that the Bush administration had to deal with, getting used to how negotiations work, what the real issues are on the Chinese end. And so we're going to have to wait and see.

I mean clearly the reality that China is going to be a big issue for the Bush administration even though the Bush administration has indicated it wants to place more emphasis on other Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea, its allies. But this incident really has highlighted, observers are pointing out, that the Bush administration is going to have to spend quite a bit of time care taking the U.S.-China relationship in order to prevent it from deteriorating and certainly the Chinese are making it very clear that they have a lot of issues that they want the United States to take very seriously and spend a lot of time on.

So that's going to be interesting. There's also the issue of U.S. high tech arms sales to Taiwan, a decision coming very soon from the Bush administration on whether to sell destroyers equipped with Aegis radar systems. It's, that's going to be a very key decision. The Chinese have said that it will be a very serious step for the worse in the relationship if the U.S. does sell the Aegis system to Taiwan.

So there are a lot of very thorny situations on the horizon but the Bush administration certainly has gotten a crash course in how China approaches crises with the United States -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: You mentioned Zhu Rongji made a statement earlier on today. But in the main, though, the key figures of, the key senior figures in the Chinese leadership haven't really said too much about this whole incident. And actually I understand that Vice President Hu Jintao, who's often touted as Jiang Zemin's successor, has handled a great deal of this. Do you think he's come up, come out of this quite well?

MCKINNON: Well, it's not very clear. Vice President Hu Jintao has been, he has not been very prominent in this incident. He has not appeared on TV saying anything. However, we have been told that while President Jiang Zemin has been traveling in Latin America, he deputized Vice President Jintao really spearhead the coordination of this crisis between the officials here on the ground and President Jiang and Vice Premier Qian Qichen as they've been traveling overseas.

So apparently he has played a role. It has just not been a public one. This is a very tricky situation for the Chinese leadership because they do want to play this as a victory. They know the situation is not over. There is a lot of Chinese public anger over the potential of having lost face to the United States, which is very assertively conducting surveillance next to Chinese air space, something that a lot of Chinese find offensive.

And the issue now, the step forward on how China handles the next step, whether China is able to get any concessions from the United States on, perhaps, limiting surveillance flights or getting them a bit further away from U.S. air space, this kind of thing, I think is going to be very critical in terms of how successfully the Chinese public and the Chinese military, the Chinese, the members of the Communist Party perceive the leaders to have handled the incident. So, politically as well, just the fact that the U.S. crew members were released from China, it really is not, it's not the point where the Chinese leadership is going to be given its final grade by either the public or by its various political constituencies within the military and the Chinese Communist Party -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Rebecca MacKinnon in Beijing, stay with us.

But for those viewers who are just joining us, you're watching live pictures from Guam of the 24 air crew members who have just boarded the plane that you see in front of you, which will soon, we expect, be taking off for Hawaii in the next 20 minutes.

Standing by in Hawaii is Rusty Dornin -- Rusty, and if you could just recap exactly what's going to happen once they do arrive in Honolulu?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, Sheehab, it'll take about eight to nine hours for them to fly from Guam to Honolulu in that C17, which is a transport plane. They're hoping for some tail winds. So they should be about on time, which is 6:30 A.M. Honolulu time is their scheduled arrival.

They'll deplane and there will be a small celebration here with a military band and a few folks on hand to greet them. And we are told that there is a possibility the that pilot, Scott Osborn (sic) or one of the crew members may make a few statements. But that was not anything that was iron clad. We'll have to just see when the crew gets here how they're feeling and that sort of thing.

After that they will be taken over to Pearl Harbor Naval Base where they will go through two days of debriefing, very intense debriefing with both military investigators and also they will be with psychologists and doctors as well to just treat them and see how they're doing.

Of course, we've been told that they have been treated very well through this whole process so that may just be a formality. But they will be undergoing other briefings about, debriefings about what happened in the air when the collision occurred and also what happened right before they landed, in other words, how much was the crew able to destroy the very sensitive material aboard that plane before they actually landed in China.

That will continue for two days and then it's off to Whidbey Island, Washington, which is near Seattle, and that's where the real big party is going to be. The family and friends and the whole town is going to get together and throw a big party for what they say are the real heroes of this whole incident -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Rusty, we've heard a certain amount of how this whole incident has played out in Chinese public opinion, but how would you characterize it as far as U.S. public opinion goes?

DORNIN: Well, I mean I think that some people still don't feel, you know, are angry about the apology aspect of the whole thing since it was over international waters and all of that, that many Americans feel that it was very unfair, that the Chinese were just manipulating the situation politically to their own advantage and that they wanted to see what was inside. I mean I've heard people say, you know, they only took the plane because they wanted to see what was inside it and that's the only reason they detained the crew members was, were so they could get inside the plane.

So I think there are a lot of people who are very skeptical about, you know, the Chinese reasons for detaining the crew members and keeping the plane. But I think most folks are just happy to see that it's ended, you know, without any major other incidents and the crew members are going to return home safely.


Marina Kamimura in Guam, give us an idea of what the crew members have been up to in the last four hours while they've been in Guam.

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were told that they're staying over at lodging that had been reserved for them over the last couple of days here on Andersen Air Force Base, lodgings that one of the public affairs officials here described analogous to a Holiday Inn Express in the U.S., saying that they're very comfortable lodgings, that they were being given food prepared by those here on the base, American style food, of course, comfort food, once again, trying to ease them back into the normal routines they were used to after their frightening ordeal over in China.

During that time we're told they also had a shower. We can see that they've changed clothes, coming out in their brown uniforms instead of the green flight jumpsuits that they were wearing when they arrived here. And, of course, they were all allowed to make one phone call home to talk to their loved ones and say hey, we're coming back soon.

RATTANSI: And Marina, while you're telling us all that, we're watching pictures recorded from just a short time ago of the crew members boarding that plane which will soon be taking off for Hawaii. We were looking at some invest earlier on with some members of the Guam political class who seem quite proud that they, of their role in this whole incident.

DORNIN: That's right. I mean Guam has always played a very key role in terms of the military's affairs here in the West Pacific, having played, because of its location, of course, in the Western Pacific, being so close to areas such as China, to Vietnam, also, you know, being very close to the Philippines, where they've, you know, basically taken away the U.S. presence there.

So it has a very, very strategic role. I mean having been the place where, for instance, they started the process to take back the Vietnamese refuges to the U.S. So Guam in that respect is used to these types of sort of naturalization type procedures, repatriation procedures, pardon me. In fact, we are expecting the remains of those killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam searching for those missing in action, Americans, to be repatriated here on Friday of this week. So Guam very much used to hosting these types of flights coming in. We saw earlier this week at the cathedral over here, with a very Roman Catholic population that you have here in Guam, thousands gathered at the cathedral offering their prayers to, in the Holy Wednesday celebrations here, also adding special prayers to pray for the safe return of these servicemen, which we -- or servicemen and women, which we, indeed, have seen here -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Marina Kamimura joining us from Guam.

And we're going to take a short break while we await the departure of those 24 U.S. crew people, crew personnel, to Hawaii, having been, having arrived in Guam earlier on today from Hainan Island. We'll take a short break here, but do stay with us.


RATTANSI: I'm Sheehab Rattansi at the CNN Center.

We've been covering over the last half an hour the expected departure of the 24 air crew, U.S. air crew who had been, up until quite recently, detained in China on Hainan Island. They are in Guam Island about to embark on the next leg of their journey to Hawaii. They've boarded the plane. The plane we are hoping, or expecting it to depart in about five or six minutes time.

Marina Kamimura joins us from Guam -- Marina, what's the scene like there?

KAMIMURA: Well, we do feel that the departure is imminent. We appear to be moments away from the stairs being lifted onto that c17 cargo plane for that trip over to Hawaii. Again, it's going to be roughly an eight or nine hour journey over the Pacific to that midway point in Hawaii, which is some 3,000 miles or 5,000 kilometers away from the Anderson Air Base here in Guam.

Now, I will move aside here so you can take a look at the perhaps behind me. We do expect those stairs to be pulled up shortly, as I was saying, the plane then to start taxiing down to our left, essentially, and then coming back up and taking off on that journey over to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.

RATTANSI: All right, Marina Kamimura in Guam, standing by. Also standing by, Rebecca MacKinnon in Beijing. The departure of the crew comes just a short time after the Chinese foreign ministry gave its briefing. So what was the mood in general there, if you could just recap for us, Rebecca.

MCKINNON: Well, to recap, Sheehab, the Chinese believing very much that this affair is not over. The U.S. crew may have been released, as China puts it, on humanitarian grounds, but China still has major issues with the United States that need to be sorted out. In particular, the Chinese side is urging the United States to stop all of its surveillance activities and surveillance flights next to Chinese air space. Now, the United States officials have indicated that the U.S. has no plans to stop any such surveillance flights such as the one that the 24 crew members were conducting when the collision happened. But the Chinese view is very much that the United States has been pushing up against its own elbow room, that this is very offensive to the Chinese, that it must stop and really the issue here is one of Chinese national pride and sovereignty as far as the Chinese leaders are concerned.

They also, even though there is a victory being claimed here, the Chinese media saying that it's a victory that the United States has said sorry, at the same time, the victory will not be complete unless the U.S. is made to take some further concessions and limit its surveillance flights in some way -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Some analysts have said that China had too much at stake, really, to risk a prolonged stand-off with the U.S. from their entry into the WTO, their Olympic bid and, indeed, the sale of arms to Taiwan coming up, that they really couldn't afford to have this drag on for much longer. Do you think that's a fair assessment?

MCKINNON: Well, I think that is true. I think that the leadership very much understood that it was becoming such an emotional issue with the American public that there were these 24 U.S. crew members being held that they really were going to have to go home if any of these other issues that China seriously wants addressed were going to get dealt with in any kind of rational way. There was concern that if the crew members were kept for too long that that could seriously affect decisions over arms sales to Taiwan and, as you mentioned, possibly trade issues and so forth.

So, yes, there has been a great deal of concern about that, but China still does have the plane, which is something that they have not failed to emphasize. They are reserving the right to investigate it further, have not even said whether they are going to give it back or not. The Chinese foreign ministry today has said that not until it finishes its investigation into the incident and has finished its investigation, quote unquote, of the plane will it decide what to do with it.

There is also the fact that Chinese life appears to have been lost, fighter pilot Wang Wei still being searched for in the South China Sea. But given how long it's been, few expect that he's going to be found alive, if he's found at all. He is being called a national hero, someone who sacrificed his life to guard China's territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

So China is very much, the pride is still wounded. The issue is not over for China. So it needs to get more from the United States -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Rebecca MacKinnon in Beijing, thank you for that. But stay with us.

Now, we'll go back to Marina in Guam and apparently the plane seems to be taking off -- Marina? KAMIMURA: That's right. You may be able to see the plane has just taken off from its position on the tarmac. You might be able to see waving on your screen, three men out there on the tarmac, the head of the naval forces in the region, also the vice commander of the air force in the region as well as the Guam governor.

Now we see the C17 transport plane taxiing towards the setting sun. It will be flying out of here, though, heading in the opposite direction once it makes its way down to the end of the strip over there. As I said, we expect that to happen imminently as this transport plane makes its way down the runway -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: Just to go back to something we were discussing a little bit earlier, kind of the geopolitical significance of this whole incident, from your base in Tokyo, I mean how would you characterize the relationship between Japan, China and the U.S., who would seem to be the three main players in the region?

KAMIMURA: That's right. Well, Japan always seems to find itself towing a very fine line, of course. Its partner, above all others in the region, is the U.S., the U.S., which, of course, is responsible for all of its security ever since the end of the world war, ever since the end of W.W.II and the two very jointly working together to maintain that U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Then again, that's where China sort of steps in, Japan always sort of worried about the growing power of its neighbor to the west and, of course, the U.S. also ever wary of the concerns of its alliance partner.

So we do see Japan towing a very fine line, which we did see, in fact, in this crisis, and just sort of taking a very sort of calm, supportive role for the United States, but urging both sides to resolve the crisis as soon as possible -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: And, I mean, would that cautious line from the Japanese government have played well with the Japanese electorate?

KAMIMURA: Yes, it does. I mean basically for the Japanese, too, of course they want, above all, security in the region. They, of course, do not want anything that will disrupt the lives that they have out here and any sort of friction developing between a country such as China and the U.S. obviously hurts, you know, anything that goes on in the Japanese sense.

So very much supportive of good relations between both sides and just to maintain that very comfortable triangle if at all possible.

RATTANSI: We've discussed public opinion in China and the U.S., but what about across the rest of Asia? How do you think this has played out?

KAMIMURA: Well, I think there is a growing wariness among some about the growing power of China in the region and, of course, as we were saying earlier, that some of these incidents, for instance, that have involved U.S. personnel in the region have sort of worried, added to some concerns of those in the region that, for instance, that issues of morale might be coming up and there are certain worries that those standards might be declining.

But all in all, I'd say the Asian partners, everybody wanting to see some sort of stability occur in the region -- Sheehab?

RATTANSI: All right, we're going to get pretty grainy sort of pictures from Guam. We can't really see exactly what's going on. Can you tell us what you can see right now?

KAMIMURA: I think I lost our feed.

RATTANSI: Have we lost Marina? I think we've lost Marina Kamimura and our connection to Marina in Guam. I wonder whether -- who else do we have sort of underlined? And I wonder, I think -- all right, I think -- just to recap for those viewers just joining us, the U.S. crew is departing from Guam, having stayed there for much of today. They are now on their way to Hawaii, where they will face a few days of debriefing with a team of psychologists, physicians and intelligence officers to find out exactly what happened, more details about what exactly happened over the South China Sea.

We're still, I mean the details are still pretty unclear, actually, just with both sides giving their competing versions of events.

Marina Kamimura joins us, rejoins us back from Guam -- Marina, is the plane still on the runway?

KAMIMURA: That's right. It's still taxiing into position now before it takes off. We just saw moments earlier it moving its way towards the setting sun, but it will be flying out the opposite direction. This C17 transport plane absolutely massive, as you can probably imagine. You probably saw that those differences in scale when you saw the personnel standing out on the tarmac in front of the plane.

These C17 transport planes, the newest additions to the air force and that type of plane capable of carrying everything from troops to, I'm told, helicopters and tanks, for instance. But we are, in fact, here waiting for that c17 transport plane carrying those 24 U.S. servicemen and women on their way over to Hawaii.

RATTANSI: And just for those viewers who are just joining us, can you give us an update or a recap, rather, on the state of the crew and what details and processes were gone through today?

KAMIMURA: I can't see it. Has it turned around? OK.

RATTANSI: Marina, are you still there?

KAMIMURA: Yes, I am. Actually, the plane has actually finished its taxiing. It's turned around. It's at the, almost at the end of the runway now, just preparing to make that final, those last preparations before it takes off down this two mile long strip here at the Anderson Air Force Base here in Guam. RATTANSI: Marina, just recap, I mean, on the state of the crew as they return back to, or they go to Hawaii before their eventual arrival in, just at Washington State?

KAMIMURA: By all accounts, I mean the crew is in extremely good spirits. Their health appears to be very good. There were doctors, physicians on board just in case there were any problems. Also, psychologists on board to deal with any sort of emotional trauma or problems that these 21 men and three women may be feeling after their long ordeal.

But all in all, big smiles after they first came off of that chartered flight, when they landed here in Guam this afternoon, bystanders saying it seemed as though a whole burden of problems had been lifted from their shoulders when they stepped down on the tarmac, a range of emotions, though, from pure pleasure, it seemed, to tears as these 24 crewmen really had a difficult time holding back their emotions.

RATTANSI: All right, and just once again, we're watching pictures from Guam, where we're expecting the aircraft carrying the 24 U.S. personnel who had been detained by Chinese authorities for a number of days, 11 days, on the island of Hainan, having crashed their spy plane over the South China Sea and we're expecting them to be departing quite shortly.

Many questions, though, still do remain, first of all, the Chinese authorities still hold the spy plane on which the American crewmen, crew personnel were traveling on, so that has to be resolved. And China apparently still pressing, well, China saying that the affair isn't yet over, that this isn't the conclusion of the affair and a number of things still have to be resolved.

We've got Rusty Dornin in Honolulu, where the plane will soon be -- well, after about eight or nine hours will be arriving -- Rusty, what's the scene there?

DORNIN: Well, it looks like if the plane takes eight or nine hours, it may be a little later than 6:30 A.M. when the c17 comes down the runway here at Hickham Air Force Base in Honolulu. They were scheduling it for 6:30, but it could float any time in there. I guess they're hoping for some tail winds to speed up the flight across the Pacific.

Now, when they do deplane here, the pilot or one of the crew members may make a statement, officials, navy officials here said, but we can't expect anything to be ironclad. Obviously, you can see how the crew members are feeling and whether they're up to doing anything like that.

There will be a small celebration here with a band and a few folks on hand to greet them for their homecoming. They are, it is a big homecoming and they're scheduling it as a hero's welcome, but there won't be the huge crowds of people. There's no bleachers or anything like that here. The biggest crowds here right now are most of the press people who have been setting up all night, waiting, of course, for the crew to arrive.

After they land here, they will be taken over to Pearl Harbor Navy Base, where they'll go through two days of debriefing, you know, all day long affairs, 12 to 14 hours a day, and it's, it'll be intermixed with, you know, medical attention by doctors and some physicals and that sort of thing, along with some psychological counseling if they need it. And then, of course, there will be very extensive debriefing as far as what went on intelligence wise.

So going back over to Marina, we'll see the plane taking off in Guam -- Marina?

KAMIMURA: Hi. Yeah, well, the plane is starting to make that trip down the runway as it starts to take off from Anderson Air Force Base here in Guam. It is a two mile long strip, so it's got quite a ways to go, but after that, of course, it has that 3,000 mile, 5,000 kilometer journey to make it to Hawaii.

We had a four hour pit stop, so to speak, time for the crewmen to relax, detox after their four and a half journey over -- four and a half hour flight over from Hainan. Now they're onto the second leg of their journey, this flight halfway across the Pacific to Hawaii.

RATTANSI: Out of interest, Marina, why couldn't the crew have gone straight to Hawaii? Why did they have to go to Guam first?

KAMIMURA: Well, part of it has to do with the simple, simple distance, actually, Sheehab. I mean when you look at a map of the proximity of Guam to this area, it's very close. It also made sense, too, because they remember, you recall that they took a commercial flight out of Guam International Airport earlier here today, or in the very wee hours of this morning, and then they then switched to this military flight over here in Guam.

You can see, here comes the plane now as it makes its final approach for takeoff.

RATTANSI: All right, and as we were saying earlier, Guam officials pretty happy with their role in this whole affair.

KAMIMURA: Marina, all right, now, we have the plane taking off. Live pictures from Guam of the U.S. crew returning or at least going to Hawaii after their stopover in Guam after their 11 day detention on Hainan Island.

And, do stay tuned. WORLD NEWS will continue after this short break.




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