The official story is that there was a "collision" between a
U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane and one of two
Chinese naval F-8 fighter jets that scrambled to intercept it.
The surveillance plane was then reported to have been
"forced" to make an "emergency landing" on a southern
Chinese air base on China's Hainan Island.
U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen
Countryman said the United States considered the mishap
an "accident." The head of the U.S. Pacific Command,
Adm. Dennis Blair, said the crash was probably caused by
the fighter bumping into the U.S. plane and had been an
accident waiting to happen because of the ``aggressive''
tactics of Chinese pilots.
Of course, not everyone agrees.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has indicated
that there was "no question" in the mind of Zhang Wannian,
vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, that
the collision was a deliberate act.
The Chinese may have good reasons for their suspicions.
Despite Washington's denials, a report in the British
Observer newspaper October 17, 1999 provided damning
evidence that NATO deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy
in Belgrade on May 7, during its campaign against Serbia.
The report cited senior military and intelligence sources in
Europe and the US stating that the embassy was bombed
after its NATO electronic intelligence (Elint) discovered it
was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications.
Supportive evidence was provided by three other NATO
officers—a flight controller operating in Naples, an
intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from
Macedonia. and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels.
All three said they knew in April that the Chinese embassy
was acting as a rebroadcast station for the Yugoslav army.
The intelligence officer based in Macedonia said: "NATO
had been hunting the radio transmitters in Belgrade. When
the President's [Milosevic] residence was bombed on 23
April, the signals disappeared for 24 hours. When they came
on the air again, we discovered they came from the embassy
Other evidence strongly supported the Observer's findings.
The Chinese embassy had been housed at its location during
the bombing for four years. The site was clearly marked on
tourist maps that are on sale internationally, including in the
English language. The embassy was well known to many
journalists, diplomats and other visitors to Belgrade. Its
address is listed in the Belgrade telephone directory. To
believe it was an accident is to believe that it went
unchecked through an exhaustive target selection,
verification and authorization process.
Is the Bush Administration's version of more recent events
trustworthy? Is this most recent flare up in U.S.-Sino
relations the result of an accident? Or perhaps, are other
forces at work that might support China's contention that this
incident was deliberate?
If the Bush Administration's version of events is accurate, the
collision was sufficiently violent to knock the Chinese F-8
fighter jet from the sky, but insufficient to down the Navy plane.
After the collision, the EP-3E would have had to have been sufficiently
airworthy to make the 70 mile flight to China's Hainan Island, but
insufficiently airworthy to make the 800 mile return trip to the Kadena
Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, or to closer US air bases in the Philippines,
some 400 miles away.
Given the flight characteristics of the two aircraft, such a
scenario is plausible, but unlikely. Most aircraft do not fare
well in mid-air collisions. Still, the Navy's EP-3E Aries II
aircraft is a low-wing reconnaissance aircraft outfitted with
four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines. It is designed to
fly 12-hour missions and more than 3,000 miles. Compared
to the Chinese F-8s, it was undoubtedly moving at a glacial
pace. Despite the fact that it had a full compliment of 24
numbered seating positions on board during Saturday's flight,
if any aircraft could survive the impact and maintain airworthiness,
it was the EP-3E. What is less clear is why did it land in China?
While the collision occurred in what has been described as
international airspace, the Navy plane undoubtedly violated
Chinese airspace upon landing. And while it would be
difficult to fault the pilot for seeking the nearest airstrip
possible after the collision, it cannot have escaped his mind
that he had just downed a Chinese fighter aircraft while
spying on the Chinese military. Under those circumstances,
no one could have faulted the pilot for seeking a US base at
which to land. Regardless of the pilot's preference, it is
difficult to imagine that the decision to land in China was not
made in consultation with, at a minimum, Navy officials both
at the Pentagon and at Pacific Command headquarters in
Hawaii. It is easy to envision these communications reaching
into the White House. For the plane to have made the 70
mile flight to Hainan Island, it's basic airworthiness was
unquestionably intact. While a 70 mile flight is not terribly
long, it is certainly long enough to make contact with
headquarters, particularly for a sophisticated reconnaissance
aircraft designed to provide a real-time assessment of the
tactical posture of potentially unfriendly military forces to the
National Command. So undoubtedly, the decision to make
the landing in China, with a full understanding of the political
consequences, was deliberate.
What were those political consequences? Rather than allow
the Chinese the opportunity to save face, Bush immediately
began the heated rhetoric. "The first step should be immediate
access by our embassy personnel to our crew members," Bush told
reporters outside the White House Oval Office. "I am troubled by
the lack of a timely Chinese response to our request for this access.
Failure for the Chinese government to react promptly to our request is
inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice and with the express
desire of both our countries for better relations,'' Bush said.
What Bush omitted was the fact that the proposed U.S. sale
of billions of dollars of sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan,
which China considers a breakaway province, was also
inconsistent with the express desire of both our countries for
better relations. Perhaps this incident was intended to provide
political cover to allow Bush to push these sales through, to the
immense financial benefit of Bush's campaign contributors.
As reported in the Washington Post, the rhetoric from right
wing Members of Congress was even more blunt. Sen.
Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Select
Committee on Intelligence, said Beijing's stance confirmed
the belief held by many Americans that "China is not our
strategic partner, and never was." Rep. Henry J. Hyde
(R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations
Committee was even more explicit. "Are we to assume that
all of these individuals are now considered hostages? I don't
know, and I certainly hope not. But if they are, the Beijing
government is terribly mistaken if it believes these actions
will influence the U.S. decision -- due later this month -- to
permit the sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan."
Would the Bush Administration stage an international
incident to shape public opinion in support of their foreign
policy plans? Before you throw the question out as a crazy
conspiracy, answer these: Did Bush's father arrange for the
Iranian Government to hold onto US hostages to influence a
US presidential election 20 years ago? Did Karl Rove
arrange for a debate tape to be sent to the Gore headquarters
to to influence a US presidential election 20 weeks ago?
Saturday's mid-air collision occurred just outside the Gulf of
Tonkin, where in 1964 another Texan who arrived in the
White House having never won an election, President Johnson,
used a skirmish involving the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy
as a pretext for launching air strikes against North Vietnam,
beginning what came to be known as the Vietnam War.
Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.