Transcription

Order Code RL30946CRS Report for CongressReceived through the CRS WebChina-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April2001: Assessments and Policy ImplicationsUpdated October 10, 2001Shirley A. Kan (Coordinator),Richard Best, Christopher Bolkcom, Robert Chapman,Richard Cronin, Kerry Dumbaugh, Stuart Goldman,Mark Manyin, Wayne Morrison, Ronald O’RourkeForeign Affairs, Defense, and Trade DivisionDavid AckermanAmerican Law DivisionCongressional Research Service The Library of Congress

China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April 2001:Assessments and Policy ImplicationsSummaryThe serious incident of April 2001 between the United States and the People’sRepublic of China (PRC) involved a collision over the South China Sea between aU.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane and a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navalF-8 fighter that crashed. After surviving the near-fatal accident, the U.S. crew madean emergency landing of their damaged plane onto the PLA’s Lingshui airfield onHainan Island, and the PRC detained the 24 crew members for 11 days. Washingtonand Beijing disagreed over the cause of the accident, the release of the crew andplane, whether Washington would “apologize,” and the PRC’s right to inspect the EP3. In the longer term, the incident has implications for the right of U.S. and othernations’ aircraft to fly in international airspace near China. (This CRS Report, firstissued on April 20, 2001, includes an update on the later EP-3 recovery.)The incident prompted assessments about PRC leaders, their hardline position,and their claims. While some speculated about PLA dominance, President andCentral Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin and his diplomats were in thelead, while PLA leaders followed in stance with no more inflammatory rhetoric. Still,the PLA is likely to benefit from this incident. Despite PRC claims that the EP-3plane caused the accident, it appears that the PLA pilot, executing a close pass in anapparent attempt to impress or intimidate the EP-3 crew, made a fatal error injudgment. International law is clear that all aircraft have a right of overflight withrespect to ocean areas beyond the territorial sea (past 12 miles out).There are implications for U.S. policy toward the PRC and Taiwan, and defensepolicy. This incident of April 2001 is the third in a series of major troublingdifficulties since the mid-1990s that could have serious implications for U.S.-PRCrelations. The standoff raised questions about whether the issues of the incident andarms sales to Taiwan should be linked and whether to change the process of annualarms sales talks with Taipei. A further worsening of political ties could negativelyaffect the business climate in China for U.S. firms and disrupt negotiations overChina’s WTO accession. Airborne reconnaissance remains a vital component ofintelligence collection for military and other national security purposes. Observersspeculate that the chief benefit to the PRC from inspecting the EP-3 would be togather information about U.S. targets and degree of success that could enable themto prepare countermeasures to hinder future U.S. surveillance efforts. The incidenthas potential implications for U.S. military surveillance operations in at least fourareas: operational strain on the EP-3 fleet, conditions for conducting airbornesurveillance missions in the future, the need for escorts or other protective forces, andusing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for airborne surveillance missions.There are also implications for U.S. relations with allies and others. Japan seemsincreasingly concerned about PRC assertiveness. South Korea is concerned that amajor deterioration in U.S.-China relations could undermine its “sunshine policy” ofengaging North Korea. The incident may add to Manila’s desire to revive its securityties with Washington. Australia has concerns. Moscow’s relatively restrained publicresponse to the incident is surprising and noteworthy.

ContentsThe EP-3 Incident and U.S. Interests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The Collision and Detention of U.S. Crew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .U.S. Interests After the Return of the Crew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Update on the EP-3's Recovery and Payment Issue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1177Assessments of the Collision Incident . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9PRC Leadership and Decision-making . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9Strategy to Push Back U.S. Presence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9Best Defense Is a Good Offense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9PLA in Command . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10Domestic Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12Nationalistic Public Opinion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12Political Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13Reactions to U.S. Positions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13The PLA’s Pattern of Aggressive Interceptions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14U.S. and PRC Military Aircraft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16EP-3 Maritime Reconnaissance Plane . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16F-8 Fighter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16Y-8 Airborne Surveillance Capabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16Cause of the Collision and Flying Maneuvers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18Selected Issues Under International Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19Implications for U.S. Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Policy toward Beijing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Arms Sales to Taiwan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Accession to the WTO and Normal Trade Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Intelligence Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Intelligence Loss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Maritime Surveillance Operations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .EP-3E Fleet Operational Strain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Conditions for Conducting Airborne Surveillance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Potential Need for Escorts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .UAVs for Airborne Surveillance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Relations with Selected Asian Allies and Russia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .South Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The Philippines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Australia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Russia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .212123242626282931323333343436363737List of FiguresPictures of EP-3E and F-8II Aircraft(not to scale) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16List of TablesComparison of Selected Capabilities of EP-3E and F-8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April2001: Assessments and Policy ImplicationsThe EP-3 Incident and U.S. Interests1The serious incident of April 2001 between the United States and the People’sRepublic of China (PRC) involved a collision over the South China Sea between aU.S. plane on a routine, overt reconnaissance mission and a People’s Liberation Army(PLA)2 fighter conducting what is usually a normal interception. The U.S. aircraftflew out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. Its crew of 24 military service menand women (with 22 from the Navy, 1 from the Marines, and 1 from the Air Force)are based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington State and Misawa NavalAir Station in Japan. Shortly after 9:00 am on April 1, 2001 (shortly after 8:00 pmon March 31, 2001 in Washington), a U.S. Navy EP-3E (Aries II) turbopropreconnaissance aircraft and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) F-8II jetfighter3 accidentally collided in international airspace about 70 miles off the PRC’sHainan island. After surviving the near-fatal accident, the U.S. crew made anemergency landing of their damaged plane onto the island at the PLAN’s Lingshuiairfield, and the PRC subsequently detained the 24 crew members for 11 days. ThePLAN’s F-8 fighter crashed into the sea and the pilot, Wang Wei, was lost.Washington and Beijing disagreed over the cause of the accident, when and howto release the U.S. crew and plane, whether the U.S. government would “apologize,”and the PRC’s right to board the U.S. aircraft and learn about its equipment.Moreover, in the longer-term, the incident has implications for the right of U.S. andother nations’ aircraft to fly in international airspace near China. The incident affectedsignificant U.S. interests, prompted assessments of a number of questions about thePRC leadership and its claims, and raised implications for U.S. foreign and defensepolicies and intelligence operations, especially policy toward China.The Collision and Detention of U.S. CrewOn the night of April 1, 2001, in Beijing (in the morning in Washington), thePRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and government-controlled media first publiclyreported that there was a collision between U.S. and PRC military aircraft. The PRCsaid that the collision occurred at 0907 that morning (Beijing and local time), 104 km1Written by Shirley Kan, Specialist in National Security Policy.2The PRC’s military is collectively called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).3Wen Wei Po, a PRC-controlled newspaper in Hong Kong, reported that the fighter was theupgraded F-8II version. In the late 1980s, until the Tiananmen Crackdown of 1989, theUnited States helped to improve the avionics of the F-8II under the “Peace Pearl” program.

CRS-2(about 65 miles) southeast of the PRC’s Hainan island over the South China Sea. ThePRC issued the announcement about 13 hours after the collision. From the beginning,the PRC’s statements blamed the U.S. side for the collision. The PRC ForeignMinistry claimed that the EP-3 “suddenly turned” toward the PLA fighters and thatthe EP-3’s nose and left wing collided with the PLA fighter, causing it to crash. ThePRC also accused the EP-3 of entering “China’s territorial airspace” withoutpermission and landing at Lingshui airport on Hainan island at 0933 (26 minuteslater), when the U.S. plane made its emergency landing. While detaining the 24 U.S.crew members on the island, the PRC declared that it made “appropriatearrangements” for them.4The new George W. Bush Administration faced its first major foreign policycrisis, and U.S. interests focused on the return of the crew. In Hawaii, on themorning of April 1, 2001, about 18 hours after the collision, Admiral Dennis Blair,Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC), in Hawaii issued a pressstatement and held a press conference.5 He reported that the EP-3 surveillanceaircraft was on a “routine operation” in international airspace over the South ChinaSea about 70 miles off Hainan island, when it was intercepted by PLA fighters, andone of them “bumped into the wing of the EP-3E aircraft.” The EP-3’s pilot declareda Mayday and safely made an emergency landing at Lingshui on Hainan island.Admiral Blair declared that the plane has “sovereign immunity,” and the PRC may notboard it or keep it. He expressed frustration at the lack of cooperation from the PRCin returning the crew and the plane, and at the PRC’s denial to the crew of phone callsto U.S. officials or families. The crew’s last message from the plane to the PacificCommand simply said “we’ve landed, and we’re okay.” Blair said that the PRC didnot notify the American side, but that U.S. representatives contacted PRC officials,who then reported that the crew members were safe.While saying that U.S. reconnaissance operations and the PLA’s interceptionsare “routine,” Adm. Blair revealed that the PLA fighters engaged in a pattern of“increasingly unsafe behavior.” He disclosed that U.S. officials had already protestedto the PRC that PLA pilots, “starting several months ago,” displayed flyingprofessionalism that was dangerous to them and to U.S. planes.Moreover, Adm. Blair responded to and disputed the PRC’s version of eventsthat the U.S. aircraft abruptly turned into the PLA fighter and caused the collision.He stressed that “an EP-3E is about the size of, say, a 737. It flies generally about300 knots. The Chinese aircraft is about like an F-16. It’s a fighter aircraft. It fliesat about twice that speed. Big airplanes like this fly straight and level on their path.”The EP-3E, according to Blair, was “just chugging along in broad daylight.”As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage later explained, the PRC initiallyfailed to communicate with the United States and allow contact with the crew despite4“CCTV Carries FM Spokesman’s Comments on U.S. Military Plane Incident,” BeijingCCTV, in FBIS, April 1, 2001; “PRC FM Spokesman Zhu Bangzao Comments on AircraftCollision Incident,” Zhongguo Xinwen She [China News Agency], in FBIS, April 1, 2001.5U.S. Pacific Command, press statement and press conference of Adm. Dennis Blair, CampSmith, Hawaii, April 1, 2001.

CRS-3U.S. attempts to contact the PRC at a high level.6 So, in the