CHINA eases off on pursuit of US surveillance flights, Powell says

Sunday, July 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ China is trying to avoid another surveillance plane incident with the United States by cutting back on the aggressive pursuit tactics led to a collision in April off the Chinese coast, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

Powell said China's decision to back off is one of many signs of Beijing's interest in pursuing a more stable relationship with the United States.

Powell spoke to reporters while flying from Beijing to the Australian capital for security talks with senior Australian officials on Monday. Joining him is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In China, Powell had extensive talks with top government officials Saturday.

He said China seemed eager to avoid a confrontation over Taiwan. He summed up the attitude of China's leaders by saying: ``Let's not let this situation get out of control. Let's talk to each other. Let's consult and make sure everybody understands to volatility of the Taiwan issue.''

Powell also talked about the aftermath of the April 1 incident when a Chinese fighter plane collided with a U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane off the China coast. The American aircraft had to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan island. The Chinese pilot was killed.

In the months before the incident, Chinese jets repeatedly harassed the slower American reconnaissance planes, reflecting Chinese displeasure over the U.S. information gathering activities.

The United States has resumed the reconnaissance flights and urged China to call off the pursuit tactics because they endangered young pilots from both countries, Powell said.

He said China apparently is paying heed to U.S. appeals. ``We haven't seen anything like the kind of things we saw before,'' Powell said.

Powell added that China's actions reflect the importance leaders in Beijing attach to close ties with the United States, primarily because of the crucial U.S. role in China's economic development.

``They have every incentive to put it (the relationship) back on the right track with us,'' he said.