CHINESE, U.S. official hold highest-level meeting since spy plane crisis

Friday, May 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ As officials from the United States and China held their highest level meeting since the spy plane crisis, Beijing's finance minister on Thursday signaled the Chinese were ready to set the incident aside to prevent a further deterioration of Sino-U.S. relations.

Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill met on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank, primarily to discuss economic issues.

``The only thing they talked about was there respective economies,'' said U.S. Treasury spokesman Michele Davis. She declined to provide any further details about the meeting.

Before the session with O'Neill, Xiang told reporters ``there has been satisfactory resolution to the troubles'' between Beijing and Washington.

He also said Beijing did not see the dispute as having strained relations more severely than past diplomatic showdowns.

Xiang gave no indication new agreements had been reached on the issue but made it clear the conflict would not remain an obstacle to returning U.S.-Chinese relations to a more normal footing.

``Secretary O'Neill (and I) share a consensus that we need to talk'' to resolve any outstanding issues, Xiang said. ``I trust Secretary O'Neill will ask me whatever questions he has and tell me whatever he wishes to tell.''

The last high-level meeting between Chinese and U.S. officials was in March when Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen visited the White House.

Relations between the two countries took a steep downturn after the April 1 collision between a U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot, and the U.S. plane made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island.

China released the 24 U.S. crewmen after 11 days and has since allowed U.S. officials to inspect the plane. They determined it could be repaired and flown off the island, but China has refused to allow it.

U.S. forces resumed surveillance flights off China's coast Monday, further angering Beijing.