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Post-Collision Talks Inconclusive No Accord Reached Between U.S., China Regarding Spy Plane

By Henry Chu and Paul Richter

Two days of tough talks between the United States and China concerning American surveillance flights concluded Thursday without word of an agreement on key issues separating the two sides.

Officials of the two countries characterized the second day of discussions as frank and productive, but neither side achieved its stated goal. Beijing is seeking to halt U.S. aerial surveillance missions off the Chinese coast; Washington wants the return of a damaged Navy spy plane stuck in southern China after its midair collision Apr. 1 with a Chinese fighter jet.

U.S. officials gave the Chinese written proposals for returning the EP-3 reconnaissance plane. They suggested sending technical experts to repair the aircraft and fly it home from Hainan island or disassembling it and returning it in containers.

U.S. officials said they expect to continue discussions through regular diplomatic channels in the days ahead, as soon as Chinese officials receive instructions from their superiors. A meeting scheduled for Monday was postponed to allow the two sides to prepare their positions, officials said.

Peter Verga, the lead U.S. negotiator, called Thursday’s session “very productive.” He said officials “covered all the items that were on the agenda” in the 2 1/2-hour meeting. Verga, a deputy undersecretary of defense, and his seven-member team are returning to Washington Friday.

Each side blames the other for the Apr. 1 collision, which killed the pilot of the Chinese aircraft, Lt. Cmdr. Wang Wei. The 24 crew members of the EP-3 were detained for 11 days after the incident, until a carefully negotiated letter from the United States secured their release.

Chinese officials presented video clips Thursday to illustrate what they say is their “very convincing” evidence that the U.S. side was at fault.

Taking a page from the Pentagon’s playbook, the Foreign Ministry produced video images of previous encounters between what appeared to be U.S. and Chinese fighter jets, saying the footage showed aggressive flying tactics used by the Americans. The video was put forward to counter the Pentagon’s release last week of footage showing a Chinese airman purportedly engaging in reckless flying behavior.