China Spy Plane Standoff Chronology
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: The initial announcement came at around 6 in the morning East Coast time from Beijing. TV anchors read a government statement in Mandarin, then in English.
ANCHOR: Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said that China has decided to release the 24 crew members of the U.S. Spy plane after they complete necessary procedures. Tang Jiaxuan announced this after receiving the letter from the U.S. Government saying it was very sorry for the collision incident. The Foreign Minister pointed out that the release of the crew members was not the end of the case and say the two sides will continue negotiations on the matter and other related issues. Tang Jiaxuan repeated China’s position that the U.S. must take full responsibility for the incident, provide convincing explanation to the Chinese people, stop its reconnaissance activities above the Chinese coast and take measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
RAY SUAREZ: An hour later, a Chinese representative on Hainan Island added to the official explanation.
CHINESE REPRESENTATIVE: As the U.S. Government has already said very sorry to the Chinese people, the Chinese government has, out of humanitarian considerations, decided to allow the crew members to leave China after completing the necessary procedures.
RAY SUAREZ: Beijing’s decision came after the U.S. Ambassador to China, Joseph Preuher, sent a letter to China’s Foreign Affairs Minister on the 11th day of the crisis. “Dear Mr. Minister,” “On behalf of the United States Government, I now outline steps to resolve this issue. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regrets over your missing pilot and aircraft. Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wan Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.
Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures. We are very sorry the entering of China’s air space and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China’s efforts to see to the well being of our crew.” Preuher also wrote that both sides will “discuss the incident” in meetings beginning next Wednesday.
That’s when the U.S. and China will address the “prompt return” of the American EP-3 aircraft. The letter ended: “We acknowledge your government’s intention to raise U.S. reconnaissance missions near China in the meeting.” “Sincerely, Joseph Preuher.” President Bush was told of the planned release between 5:00 and 6:00 this morning, Eastern Time. Around 8:30 he made this brief statement:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’m pleased to be able to tell the American people that plans are underway to bring home our 24 American servicemen and women from Hainan Island. This morning, the Chinese government assured our American ambassador that the crew would leave promptly.
We’re working on arrangements to pick them up and to bring them home. This has been a difficult situation for both our countries. I know the American people join me in expressing sorrow for the loss of life of a Chinese pilot. Our prayers are with his wife and his child. I appreciate the hard work of our Ambassador to China, Joseph Prueher, and his entire embassy team who worked tirelessly to solve this situation. The American people, their families and I, are proud of our crew and we look forward to welcoming them home. Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Bush’s counterpart, Chinese President Jiang Zemin continued his South American tour but had no comment to reporters on the announcement. Within four hours of President Bush’s announcement, a commercial jet took off from the Pacific island of Guam, an American territory, bound for Hainan to pick up the 24 Americans.
The crew, once handed over by the Chinese, will stop briefly in Guam, head to Hawaii to tell their stories to U.S. officials, and eventually return home to Whidbey Island Naval air station near Seattle. As for the future of the Navy surveillance flights in the South China Sea, Washington made no promises to end them in today’s letter. Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing today on a public radio program, was asked about the flights.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Our people know very well what it is they are doing and that we have every legal right to be there. That’s a right that we would have always insisted on in the past.
RAY SUAREZ: The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was in Paris today joining his European counterparts for a meeting on the Balkans. He spoke to reporters.
REPORTER: Given that the United States went from expressing regret to feeling sorry to feeling very sorry, why couldn’t you just have apologized in the first place?
COLIN POWELL: With respect to the second part of your question, there is nothing to apologize for. To apologize, would have suggested that we had done something wrong and were accepting responsibility for having done something wrong, and we did not do anything wrong, and, therefore, it is not possible to apologize.
With respect to the words that you used – regret, sorrow, very sorry – they were related to two specific things: One, the loss of the young Chinese pilot’s life, and the death of anyone diminishes us all in some way; and so we were expressing the fact that we were sorry, very sorry, regret the loss of his life, and President Bush also wrote to his wife. And with respect to the second place where we used that language, it had to do with the fact that we entered their air space without permission because we were unable to get permission. But that young pilot was faced with a crisis.
His plane had been badly damaged; he had to get it on the ground. He had 23 lives plus his own to save, and niceties and formalities were not available to him at that moment, and he did a marvelous job of putting the plane on the ground. But he did enter air space without permission and landed without permission, and, for that, we are very sorry, but glad he did it.
RAY SUAREZ: Powell was also asked to assess the damage to U.S./China relations.
COLIN POWELL: I think we’ve stopped this process that was unfolding before it became more serious. I think we’ll just have to see how things settle out. This is not over. Some discussions will begin, and we still have our plane there, but this will all unfold in the days and weeks ahead. I don’t see anything that isn’t recoverable.
RAY SUAREZ: Back in the states this afternoon the parents of one crew member, Steven Blocher, met with the President in Concord, North Carolina.
SPOKESMAN: This morning worked out even better than we had hoped. It was an honor to meet the President, to meet the President under such happy circumstances was more than we could ask the Lord for in any way.
RAY SUAREZ: Other families of the twenty-one men and three women also celebrated in anticipation of a reunion.
FAMILY MEMBER: To Scott and to the 24 crew guys that are there. I wish them a speedy, quick homecoming and thank you, President Bush.
FAMILY MEMBER: The entire time has been totally nerve racking. … you know because we knew that it would come to an end; we just didn’t know when, so we’re happy.