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CNN BURDEN OF PROOF

U.S. and China Broker a Deal

Aired April 11, 2001 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

The United States and China have brokered a deal. And the standoff over American personnel in captivity has ended.

In a letter to the Chinese foreign minister, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher said, quote, "Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of Pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss. We are very sorry of the entering of China's airspace. And the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely." The important words being "very sorry."

China has agreed to release the 24 crew members from a U.S. surveillance plane as a humanitarian effort. The plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet April 1 and made an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan.

Despite the crew's impending release, the U.S.-China standoff has not ended. There's no agreement on the status of the American plane. And China wants to keep the U.S. from making future reconnaissance missions in the region.

So, joining us to discuss all of this today here in Washington are international law professor Paul Williams, professor of diplomacy Casimir Yost, and retired Navy Rear Admiral Eric McVadon. And in the back: Kim Kobes (ph) and Allison Young (ph).

And recently, the plane that will be picking up the American crew in Hainan just left the island of Guam on its way to Hainan to pick up the American crew members. It's expected that it will be some five hours or so before they get to Hainan and pick up the crew and then return back to the United States.

So three experts in mind, let me start with you, Paul. What is it about "very sorry" -- I guess what I'm saying is, is "very sorry" the words that broke this logjam, or was this just about the time that this was going to end?

PAUL WILLIAMS, INTERNATIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: I think it was both. The words "very sorry" are a minor apology. The Chinese get what they want, an apology. The Americans are able to sidestep providing a major apology because it is an apology for failing to request clearance to land, which was really not necessary. And it is minor apology for the death of the pilot, which is appropriate, to apologize for being involved in an incident which caused a death.

The timing is also very important. Congress is coming back in session. And the Chinese wanted to essentially get all they could from the Americans before Congress came back in and limited the ability of President Bush to make some of these minor concessions, which he has.

REAR ADM. ERIC MCVADON, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Roger, could I jump in and add...

COSSACK: Sure.

MCVADON: ... that I think the important extra component of this solution was the expression of sorrow or regret at our having landed without permission, of course under understandable circumstances. But it sort of put together a nice package I believe. We were able to say we were sorry about yet something other than the loss of the aircraft and the pilot yet not say we acknowledge any wrongdoing and having been international airspace and so forth. Nice package.

COSSACK: I for one, like all Americans, am just delighted that the crew is coming home. But in reality what we apologized for was apparently was a plane that was disabled, the American plane that was disabled, through no fault of its own that if the reports are correct dropped some 8,000 feet before this pilot was able to get control, and put it on the ground and save 24 lives.

And, oh, what a crisis this would have been if there would have been 24 dead crew members. So the notion that we had to apologize for that and say we are very sorry for landing to save people's lives I find unusual.

MCVADON: Well, remember if you're looking at it from the Chinese viewpoint here that we were a supposed spy plane, as it's been called so often, off the coast of China. Why were we there, and so forth.

So it was a small concession on our part to be able to say this. And it's sort of an innocuous explanation and apology. And yet it worked.

COSSACK: Casimir, take me if you can into the Chinese mind. What do they see this? The admiral points out that they see it as a spy plane. But, in fact, this is something that's been going on since the '50s. I mean, and the American plane was not over Chinese- controlled airspace or water. So why do they view this as that?

CASIMIR YOST, PROFESSOR OF DIPLOMACY: Well, I think what you are seeing is classic Chinese negotiating behavior. They ended up with 24 Americans on their soil. And they were going to get whatever advantage out of this that they possibly could.

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