Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 3 News List

US to continue flights in Strait

STILL FLYINGThe US has said that it won’t be deterred from flying in the international airspace after Chinese fighter planes tried to drive one of its spy planes away

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has warned China about intercepting US reconnaissance flights over the Taiwan Strait.

He was speaking in Washington following the revelation this week that two Chinese Su-27 fighter planes entered Taiwanese airspace last month as they attempted to drive away a US U-2 spy aircraft.

Military sources said one of the Chinese fighters did not leave Taiwanese airspace until after the Taiwan Air Force scrambled two F-16 aircraft to intercept it.

Mullen, in a briefing to foreign press based in Washington on Monday, said he has discussed reconnaissance operations with Chinese Chief of the General Staff General Chen Bingde (陳炳德) in the US and during a recent visit to Beijing.

Asked directly about the incident above the Taiwan Strait, Mullen said: “This is international airspace and we won’t be deterred from flying in international airspace.”

He said that under international standards in place for “a long, long time,” the US had the right to fly over the area.

Mullen acknowledged that China wanted the flights to end and for the US to stop reconnaissance over the Taiwan Strait.

However, he said: “I don’t see that as the case. We’re not going to do that. These reconnaissance flights are important.”

“I think we both have to be very careful about how we fly them. We have to be careful about the intercepts. We have to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2001. These are lives that are at stake up there,” Mullen said.

Mullen added that intercepts escalated the tension and “could put countries in a position to miscalculate and go in the wrong direction with respect to stability and peaceful resolution of these kinds of things.”

The admiral, who retires on Sept. 30, was referring to what became known as the Hainan Island incident of April 1, 2001, when a US EP-3 intelligence aircraft and a Chinese J-8 fighter collided, causing the death of the Chinese pilot. The EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan, resulting in an international dispute.

Taiwan supporters in the US have been quick to point out that the latest incident over the Taiwan Strait dramatically demonstrates the need for the US to update -Taiwan’s aging F-16A/B aircraft and sell Taipei 66 new advanced F-16C/D aircraft.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed last week that a decision about the fighters would be announced by Oct. 1.

Asked if he thought the US would sell Taiwan the new F-16s, Mullen said: “It’s really a decision for the president of the United States to make and I would not preview that even if I knew what the president was going to do.”

“This is an issue that General Chen Bingde and I discussed when he was here, both privately and publicly, same thing when I was in China. I am aware that this is an issue of great interest not just in the US, but also in China. Clearly, the Chinese would strongly prefer us to stop doing this [selling arms to Taiwan],” Mullen said.

“The point I made to General Chen was that we have a relationship and responsibilities, and they’re legal responsibilities, in my country to support the Taiwan Relations Act. I would hope that in future, when we come up against these very difficult issues, whether they’re reconnaissance operations, South China Sea, Taiwan arms sales, that we are able to sustain the military relationship, which has been renewed,” he said.

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