JIM LEHRER: Now to our newsmaker interview with Chinese Ambassador to the United States Yang Jiechi. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
YANG JIECHI: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: How close are matters to a resolution tonight?
YANG JIECHI: Well, I think that the two sides are still discussing. And the Chinese side has said that this collision has been caused by the U.S. side, and then the U.S. aircraft intruded into Chinese territory while it really had all the telecommunications intact and it could certainly notify us -- but it didn't -- and then it landed at a Chinese airport. So we have pointed out to American side that the American side should shoulder all the responsibility and should apologize to the Chinese side. After all, the Chinese side is the injured party. Our plane, our airplane crashed, and our pilot is now missing.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you have just come from a meeting at the State Department here in Washington. What was the purpose of the meeting?
YANG JIECHI: Well, there have been quite a few meetings in the last couple of days, and the two sides exchanged views on these issues.
JIM LEHRER: And you said again today what you just said; we, the Chinese, want an apology from you, the Americans, is that correct?
YANG JIECHI: Well, I'm not going into the details of my meetings with State Department officials. I will have to say that on quite a few occasions I reiterated my government's position on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Secretary of State Powell made a statement today, which he expressed regret over the loss of life of the Chinese fighter pilot. Is that … where does that fit in to what your country requires?
YANG JIECHI: Well, I think there is a question of responsibility, and this incident has been caused by the American side. The American side has conducted many reconnaissance flights up and down the coast of China. And if the shoe were on the other foot, if America has witnessed such kind of reconnaissance flights up and down its coast so close to its air space and despite the representations by the American side, the other side continues doing that, I don't think that's the right thing. If you lose your airman and you lose your aircraft, I think the response would be very different.
JIM LEHRER: Did... has China protested these flights before this incident?
YANG JIECHI: Yes, yes.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of response did you get?
YANG JIECHI: We have made very serious representations to the American side. We haven't got an answer. And the American side just said, we are over the high sea over the international water and so on. But there are rules governing these things because the U.S. airplanes were flying over the exclusive economic zones of China, and there China has all kinds of rights, sovereign rights and other rights and jurisdiction and China, being the coastal country, has the right and the responsibility to maintain peace and tranquility and orderly status in that area. And besides, the U.S. Airplanes actually interfered with the freedom of Chinese airplanes on the high seas in this case and really it's against the agreed consensus reached between the two sides last year that one should avoid dangerous actions.
JIM LEHRER: Well, of course, as you know, the U.S. position is that this airplane was a slow-moving plane and it was the Chinese fighter planes that came up and made the approaches. Do you disagree with that? In other words, that the U.S. plane didn't approach the Chinese fighters; the Chinese fighters approached the U.S. Plane
YANG JIECHI: I disagree totally with this point of view. The frontal part of the U.S. airplane's nose came off and there was damage to the engine prop on the left wing, and the plane actually tried to make a sudden turn and it approached the Chinese airplane. This caused the collision.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, this big propeller plane went after the fighter jet. Is that... that's the Chinese position?
YANG JIECHI: It turned around, the Chinese airplane was monitoring the U.S. airplane and the U.S. Airplane suddenly turned around and this caused the collision.
JIM LEHRER: You said earlier today that you could prove this. Do you have... are there films available? Did your fighter planes take films or something like... how do you know this is exactly what happened?
YANG JIECHI: Well, the damaged status of the U.S. Airplane actually proves that.
JIM LEHRER: I see. But there's no... there was no video taken of this accident while it was occurring that you know of?
YANG JIECHI: Well, I think the damage status actually shows fully that the U.S. side actually caused the incident.
JIM LEHRER: And you want the United States just to say, hey, it was our fault? Is that essentially what you want?
YANG JIECHI: Well, China is the injured party. Our man, you know, is missing, and it's caused by the U.S. side I think at least the U.S. side should apologize. I think if it happens, you know, in the United States, you know, if somebody hurt your people and then stormed into your house, at least, you know, the owner of the house has the right to investigate, to examine the tools and the person who caused all that should apologize.
JIM LEHRER: But what if, to use your analogy, what if there are two sides to the story, that what if... and in this case the United States takes the position that this slow-moving plane was flying along and that it was caused by the actions of the Chinese pilots? I mean whether they're right or wrong, if they have a different position, you're saying that the United States must accept the Chinese version or this thing is not going to get resolved? Is that what --
YANG JIECHI: The problem is that the United States has a position but it does not have the evidence to support its position.
JIM LEHRER: And China has the evidence.
YANG JIECHI: Yes, yes.
JIM LEHRER: All right. The 24 American crew members -- they're essentially prisoners of the Chinese government tonight, are they not?
YANG JIECHI: They're not. They're in China because an investigation is going on and they were on the plane and the plane caused the collision. So there's a right for us to investigate the case, and that's why they're in China.
JIM LEHRER: But are they free to leave?
YANG JIECHI: At the moment, I think the investigation is going on in China and they are questions to be asked.
JIM LEHRER: I mean they're not free to leave?
YANG JIECHI: They're in China.
JIM LEHRER: And they're prisoners, are they not?
YANG JIECHI: They're not prisoners. They're in China because the U.S. Airplane caused the incident, the loss of life, Chinese life, a young pilot who has parents, who has a wife and a kid, and if it was some American, I think, you know, I think America would react in the same way.
JIM LEHRER: To make sure I understand this, those Americans will remain in Chinese custody until the United States apologizes in a way that is satisfactory to the Chinese government, is that correct?
YANG JIECHI: What I'm saying is that the investigation is going on now, so there are questions to be asked, and that's why they're in China.
JIM LEHRER: Have they been charged with any crime? Is it likely... is it likely they will be charged with a crime?
YANG JIECHI: I will stick with my statement and just say that, you know, there are things to be examined and questions to be asked.
JIM LEHRER: There were reports today that this crew, these 24 Americans, were able to destroy or dismantle most of the sensitive equipment and the sensitive material, the intelligence-gathering material. Does that jive with reports you have had from your government?
YANG JIECHI: I don't know what they did during the last minutes before their landing. I have no information, but China has every right to take the necessary steps to investigate.
JIM LEHRER: Do you anticipate holding these Americans for some period of time or is this something... in other words, from a Chinese point of view, do you want this thing resolved quickly or does it really matter? In other words, you're prepared to wait until you get what you want rather than to speed things up in some way?
YANG JIECHI: I think that this issue should have been resolved a long time ago. And the United States should apologize for this incident and should act in a positive fashion. And, in other words, we would like to see a speedy settlement of this issue, but the ball is not in our court.
JIM LEHRER: But when you say "apology," I don't mean to keep... well, I guess I do. I want to make sure we understand what you're saying. When you say an apology, you mean a form of words that comes from the United States government that says, we apologize for what happened that caused the death of a Chinese pilot? Is that essentially what you want?
YANG JIECHI: I think the incident has been caused by the U.S. side, so the U.S. side knows how to go about this thing of apology.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have, based on any direct or even indirect information that the United States is likely or you're working toward resolving this along... along these lines somehow or, for instance, the public statements have been, we have... the United States is saying we have nothing to apologize for, we're sorry about the death of the Chinese fighter pilot. That's not enough for you, is it not?
YANG JIECHI: They didn't even say they're sorry. I don't know. We will have to wait and see what will be the further response from the American side. I think the Chinese position is very clear, and, you know, a person has died because of this incident, and the Chinese government surely wants to have good relations with the United States. I think a good relationship is in our mutual interest, but being leaders of a sovereign country we also have to think about the dignity and sovereignty of China. I think American audience should be able to understand this. Just as we respect other countries' sovereignty and dignity -- and they should respect ours.
JIM LEHRER: Do you, on the other side, understand the concern that Americans have about 24 Americans being held against their will, as we speak, until China is satisfied with a particular statement from the United States government?
YANG JIECHI: I think your people, from Beijing and… have gone down to Hainan Island. They have met with the crew and they have found the crew in good health condition…. They are being well treated. The message is already out.
JIM LEHRER: Are you concerned at all about reports today here in Washington, members of Congress and others who are saying that if China doesn't release those Americans soon that we should... there should be legislation affecting trade relations, the Olympics coming up, all kinds of relationship issues between the United States and China should be put on the back burner as long as those Americans are being held?
YANG JIECHI: Well, there are all kinds of views expressed in the U.S. Congress, and there are all kinds of views expressed by this incident. And I must say that there are people who say that you have to reverse the position and to think what you would... how you would react if you were a Chinese. And the trade relationship and other relations actually serve our mutual interests so it's not a one-way street. I think people will come to their wise decision. As regards the Olympics -- and this should be up to the Olympic Committee to decide -- the United States has hosted three Olympic games, and China has not. And I think China has every right to compete for the hosting of the Olympics in the year 2008 and this should not be used as a political issue by some people in this country. And I don't think that, you know, the people who really uphold justice, people who have a balanced view, support this kind of view. I have met many Americans who think that this is the wrong approach. They are opposed to the legislation -- to the pieces of drafted resolutions being proposed by some congressman and senators.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, finally, based on -- here again on what you know and the people you've talked to both in Beijing and also here among those in the U.S. government -- can you give us any idea as to how close this thing may be to being resolved? Do you see something that could go on for days and weeks -- or do you think this is a matter of hours as we sit here tonight right now based on what you know?
YANG JIECHI: Let's say... let me say finally that this is a very important relationship. A good relationship between us is in the interest of our two peoples and in the interest of the people of the world. And we will try our best to have improved relations with the United States. On the other hand, China is a sovereign country. We have our own dignity, so we have to safeguard our own sovereignty and dignity, and this issue has been caused not by the Chinese side but by the American side, so we hope that the American side will adopt the right approach. And we are staying in close touch with the American side, and there is discussion going on. I hope that this issue can be behind us soon.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
YANG JIECHI: Thank you very much.