China to allow U.S. probe of Vietnam War crashes

December 04, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China for the first time will let the United States investigate here reports that some U.S. pilots may have crashed Chinese soil during the Vietnam War, three U.S. senators announced yesterday.

The United States has been seeking Chinese military cooperation and access to the alleged crash sites in China as part of the larger effort to resolve the cases of U.S. military personnel still listed as missing in action during the conflict.

There are no claims that China may be holding U.S. prisoners from that war. But U.S. officials say examining any Chinese crash sites could help determine the fates of some pilots.

"We very much appreciate the gesture," said Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., who is leading the delegation of Democratic senators.

However, this concession was the only apparent result of two days of meetings between the senators and such top Chinese leaders as Communist Party Secretary Jiang Zemin and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen.

During these talks, the senators stressed that China has "a window of opportunity" before President-elect Bill Clinton's inauguration next month to take concrete actions to improve Sino-U.S. relations, Mr. Boren said.

The senators said that China can no longer assume it will not have to meet certain conditions -- such as human rights improvements -- to retain its most-favored-nation trading status with the U.S.

President Bush repeatedly vetoed efforts to attach conditions to the trade standing. But Mr. Clinton is expected to take a tougher stance.

The senators specifically asked China for more information about 11 prominent Chinese prisoners and raised the cases of nine other Chinese who have been denied passports to leave.

They also brought up U.S. concerns about Chinese arms sales and reports that Chinese prisoners are still making goods for export.

The Chinese officials listened politely, the senators said, but gave no sign that any concessions on these issues are forthcoming. A group of U.S. representatives received much the same reaction last week.

Nevertheless, official Chinese concern about its troubled relations with the U.S. may be measured by the favorable coverage given to the senators' visit on national TV news here last night.

Two of the senators, Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan, will fly today to Tibet for a one-day visit -- a visit in which they have asked to tour a prison. The Tibet trip was first planned, then called off and finally allowed by China.

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