China to bid hero's farewell to lost pilot

Friday, April 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ China is preparing a hero's farewell for a fighter pilot missing after a mid-air collision with a U.S. spy plane.

Preparations at the Great Hall of the People were under way as a team of American diplomats left Beijing Friday after two days of inconclusive talks. The United States demanded the return of its plane and Beijing pushed for an end to American surveillance flights off its coast.

Lt. Cmdr. Wang Wei disappeared when his F-8 fighter crashed into the South China Sea on April 1 after colliding with a U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane. China called off a 13-day search last week, declaring Wang a ``revolutionary martyr'' and ``guardian of the air and sea.''

Memorial arrangements were shrouded in secrecy typical of China's military. Since Wang was a naval pilot, that branch of the People's Liberation Army will probably be in charge of the funeral, said a Defense Ministry official who gave only his surname, Li. He said the site was undecided.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said a ceremony had been for planned Friday at the Great Hall but was postponed. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she did not know the reason for the change.

Other officials at the Foreign Ministry and at the State Council, China's cabinet, said they didn't know about the arrangements or who was making them.

A Foreign Ministry official said foreign reporters probably would be barred from attending the service at the vast meeting hall facing Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.

Though talks on the return of the U.S. plane, held by China since making an emergency landing on the southern island of Hainan, were inconclusive, the top American negotiator praised the overall tone of the meetings.

They got off to a rocky start and the U.S. team threatened to walk out on the first day Wednesday, saying China was unwilling to discuss the return of the spy plane.

``We had professional discussions, the meetings were very professionally handled and we are looking forward to getting our plane back,'' U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Peter F. Verga said.

No deal was announced following the meetings in Beijing, beyond an agreement to hold more talks at an undetermined future date.

``We've got some more work to do, there is nothing currently scheduled and we expect to hear back from the Chinese government,'' Verga said at the Beijing airport.

China says the U.S. plane caused the collision by swinging suddenly into Wang's fighter. It has demanded that Washington accept full blame. To back its claims, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday showed video of what it called U.S. fighters flying close to Chinese aircraft.

The Bush administration says the Chinese fighter jet erred by accidentally running into the larger American plane.

It has rejected Beijing's demands for an end to reconnaissance flights off the coast of China. There have been none since the collision, and the Bush administration is weighing when to resume them.

On Friday, state media kept up a blizzard of criticism aimed at the United States.

A cartoon in the English-language China Daily showed Uncle Sam, labeled ``U.S. spy,'' peeking with binoculars over a Chinese wall.

The paper also quoted experts at government-run think tanks blaming the United States for the lack of agreement in talks this week.

``The self-contradictory and arrogant attitude of the United States toward the plane collision incident will prevent a settlement from being reached in current negotiations,'' the article said.

In the talks, American negotiators presented a written proposal for U.S. experts to inspect the plane in Hainan to determine whether to repair and fly it out or to ship it back in pieces, U.S. officials said.

China still has not said whether it will return the plane. Satellite photos suggest Chinese experts are inspecting the plane's sophisticated electronics.