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Profile: Wang Wei

Wang Wei was a participant or observer in the following events:

A map showing the location of the collision, and of the Hainan Island airfield where the crippled EP-3 landed.A map showing the location of the collision, and of the Hainan Island airfield where the crippled EP-3 landed. [Source: Military.com]A US EP-3 Aries II spy plane collides with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The fighter crashes, killing the pilot; the EP-3 makes an emergency landing at a Chinese air base on China’s Hainan Island, a landing described as illegal by Chinese officials. 24 American crewmen—including three women and eight code-breakers—are taken into custody by the Chinese. The incident is the Bush administration’s first real foreign-policy crisis. [CNN, 4/2001; BBC, 4/5/2001] The precise location of the US plane is in dispute, with US officials saying that the plane was in international airspace when the collision occurred, and Chinese officials saying that the aircraft was over Chinese airspace. [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Some military experts say that the crash is likely the fault of the Chinese pilot, who may have been engaging in what they call a pattern of “deliberate confrontation over the South China Sea, sending its fighter jets to harass American surveillance planes in international airspace.” [Capitalism Magazine, 4/9/2001] Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of the US Pacific Command, supports the experts’ opinion on the Chinese pilots’ behavior towards US aircraft, telling the press, “I must tell you though that the intercepts by Chinese fighters over the past couple months have become more aggressive to the point we felt they were endangering the safety of Chinese and American aircraft. And we launched a protest at the working level. This is not a big deal, but we went to the Chinese and said, ‘Your aircraft are not intercepting in a professional manner. There is a safety issue here.’ So, this was a pattern of what we considered to be increasingly unsafe behavior.” Aviation expert Jim Eckes concurs: “Aviation protocol demands that the quicker plane take steps to avoid the larger, slower aircraft, which in this case was the EP-3 belonging to the US.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) says that the Chinese pilot who died in the collision, Wang Wei, was known to have challenged US surveillance planes before, but this time Wei—who apparently died when he ejected from his aircraft and was pulled into the EP-3’s propellers—“exceeded his grasp.” The Chinese have a different story: “the immediate cause of the collision was the violation of flight rules by the US plane which made a sudden and big movement to veer towards the Chinese plane,” according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. “The US plane’s nose and left wing rammed the tail of one of the Chinese planes causing it to lose control and plunge into the sea.” Analysts from Jane’s Defense say that two Chinese F8 fighter planes “hemmed in” the larger, slower EP-3 in an attempt to make it change course, and thereby caused the collision; one source reports that one of the Chinese fighters was actually flying directly underneath the EP-3. [BBC, 4/5/2001] The aggressive and dangerous behavior of the Chinese pilots is later confirmed by the account of the collision by the pilot of the EP-3, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who says, “He was harassing us.…The third time he hit us, is that an accident? I don’t know. Do I think he meant to hit us? No. I don’t think he meant to have his plane cut in two and go under the ocean. But his actions were definitely threatening my crew in a very serious manner and we all saw what happened.” [PBS Frontline, 10/18/2001] Almost immediately after the EP-3 lands, Chinese troops board the plane, ignoring a Pentagon warning to stay off the plane; on April 2, US ambassador to China Joseph Prueher confirms this, saying, “There is little doubt they have been over the airplane.” The EP-3 is filled with highly classified surveillance equipment. The US initially blames China for the crash; the Chinese say the opposite. President Bush’s demands that the plane and crew be returned immediately are ignored [CNN, 4/2001; Reuters, 4/4/2001] on April 2, Prueher says, “To date, we have been granted no access to either the crew or the aircraft,” and calls the lack of access “inexplicable and unacceptable.” [CNN, 4/2/2001] On April 11, the Chinese will return the US crew to American custody, but will retain the plane until July 2001 (see April 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Shane Osborn, Wang Wei, Richard Lugar, Jim Eckes, George W. Bush, Dennis C. Blair, Joseph Prueher

Timeline Tags: US Military

A day after Chinese president Jiang Zemin demands that the US apologize for the crash of a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet that cost the life of the Chinese pilot (see March 31, 2001), Secretary of State Colin Powell expresses US “regret” over the death of pilot Wang Wei. The Pentagon claims that the crew of the American EP-3 managed to destroy much of the most sensitive surveillance equipment on the plane before it crash-landed on China’s Hainan Island, but, notes GlobalSecurity’s John Pike, “This airplane is basically just stuffed with electronics. Short of blowing up the airplane, there’s unavoidably a limit as to what they could destroy.” Chinese authorities say they will continue to detain the 24 crew members while they investigate the incident, and demand that the US halt all of its surveillance flights near Chinese territory. “We cannot understand why the United States often sent its planes to make surveillance flights in areas so close to China,” Jiang says. “And this time, in violation of international law and practice, the US plane bumped into our plane, invaded the Chinese territorial airspace and landed at our airport.” The next day, China’s Foreign Ministry says that Powell’s expression of regret is not enough; it again demands a full US apology and says that its officials will only meet with US officials to discuss the incident when Washington takes what it calls a “cooperative approach.” Bush reiterates Powell’s expression of regret over the death of Wei, and says though he does not want the incident to jeopardize Sino-American relations, the crew of the spy plane should be returned immediately. [CNN, 4/2001; Reuters, 4/4/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jiang Zemin, John Pike, Colin Powell, Wang Wei, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

Negotiations and disputes over the collision and subsequent crash of a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet over Chinese waters continue (see March 31, 2001, April 4-5, 2001, and April 6-7, 2001). US officials warn long-term relations are at risk because of the dispute; Vice President Dick Cheney insists the US will not apologize over the incident. President Bush sends an unsigned letter to the wife of the slain Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, that expresses his “regret” over his death. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the letter is “very personal” and “not part of the political exchange.” Powell says that evening on national television, “[W]e have expressed regrets and we have expressed our sorrow, and we are sorry that the life was lost.” [CNN, 4/2001; Associated Press, 4/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Wang Wei, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Military

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