An Agreement

Sun Journal

To The Letter

April 12, 2001

DIPLOMACY IS the conduct of relations between nations. It is the exchange of ambassadors, the drafting of treaties, the establishment of trade -- and, as demonstrated yesterday, the extremely careful drafting of letters to help governments feel proud and respected.

A letter signed by U.S. Ambassador Joseph W. Prueher and addressed to Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan ended China's detention of 21 American men and three women from the EP-3E spy plane that made an emergency landing on Hainan Island after colliding over the South China Sea with a Chinese fighter plane. The Chinese pilot is presumed dead.

It took 11 days for the right words to be found.

Each side found what it wished to see: In its translations of the letter in Chinese, China's Foreign Ministry used a phrase expressing apology and implying acceptance of responsibility. A copy of the letter in Chinese released by the U.S. Embassy used a term expressing "extreme sympathy."

The diplomacy was in the writing. It was in the translation -- and in each side's willingness to let the other read a letter its own way.

Remarks of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

APRIL 4, 2001

We're in touch with the Chinese. Ambassador Prueher met with Chinese officials this morning. We'll have other meetings in the course of the day, and we're exploring avenues by which we can get a dialogue going that causes both sides to present explanations.

As we said yesterday, a United States airplane flying over in international airspace was intercepted by two Chinese planes, also flying in international airspace. A tragic accident took place.

Fortunately, our airplane was able to get down to the ground safely, and it's a tribute to the skill of that crew that got the plane down.

We regret the Chinese plane did not get down safe and we regret the loss of the life of that Chinese pilot, but now we need to move on, we need to bring this to a resolution and we're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations and move on.

Letter of Ambassador Joseph W. Prueher

APRIL 11, 2001

Dear Mr. Minister: On behalf of the United States Government, I now outline steps to resolve this issue.

Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft. Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.

Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures. We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China's efforts to see to the well-being of our crew.

In view of the tragic incident, and based on my discussions with your representative, we have agreed to the following actions: Both sides agree to hold a meeting to discuss the incident. My government understands and expects that our aircrew will be permitted to depart China as soon as possible.

The meeting would start April 18, 2001.

The meeting agenda would include discussion of the causes of the incident, possible recommendations whereby such collisions could be avoided in the future, development of a plan for prompt return of the EP-3 aircraft, and other related issues. We acknowledge your government's intention to raise U.S. reconnaissance missions near China in the meeting.

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