Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
The “clipping” in midair of a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane and its resultant landing at a Chinese electronic surveillance airbase was a “well-laid electronic ambush” engineered by Beijing, according to intelligence sources.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly, a Mideast and regional intelligence newsletter, says Chinese sources have informed analysts that “the operation — in addition to netting Beijing a sensational intelligence technology scoop — satisfied a thirst for vengeance” over a series of U.S. “affronts.”
Specifically, the report said, “China … chose its moment for exacting retribution for what it regarded as a series of American affronts, some dating from Bill Clinton’s day.”
Chinese F-8 fighter of the type that reportedly struck a U.S. Navy EP-3E.
Chinese officials, the report said, have become increasingly incensed with the U.S. following the U.S. bombing of an electronic center in the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1999; the bombing of a Chinese fiber-optics project outside of Baghdad in February; and U.S. pressure on Israel to cancel an estimated $2.5 billion sale of up to five advanced “Phalcon” Airborne Warning and Control Systems planes to China in 1998.
U.S. officials blamed an out-of-date map for the embassy bombing, and the Bush administration said the Chinese fiber-optics network — nearly complete — would have given Baghdad the ability to target and destroy U.S. and British warplanes patrolling a pair of Iraqi no-fly zones, action imposed by the United Nations ten years ago following the 1990-91 Gulf War.
Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, one day after being struck by cruise missiles launched by a U.S. B-2 bomber.
As to the Phalcon sale, U.S. officials said the plane would give China an incredible battle management advantage over Taiwan, which does not have similar aircraft.
“The ambush worked quite simply,” said the intelligence service. “In the first stage, each time a U.S. spy plane patrolled the Chinese coast on routine missions, especially when monitoring electronic signals emitting from Chinese shore-based command posts and units, the Chinese changed their electronic frequencies to lure the U.S. planes ever closer to the mainland without attempting interception.”
As time went on, American reconnaissance planes “felt safe enough to increasingly reduce their distance from the coast,” the report said.
U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane.
Next, Chinese intercepts became increasingly aggressive, although they pulled away seconds before engaging, said the report.
But last Sunday, “the EP-3E came in close enough for the jaws of the Chinese trap to snap shut,” the report said.
“Although not much was said publicly, the Chinese government was deeply irked over the Phalcon affair and swore to get hold of comparable technology by any means,” DEBKA said.
Now, analysts believe, it appears as though Beijing may have scored the technology coup it promised.
Analysts said the 24-member crew aboard the Navy plane — which fell a reported 8,000 feet in seconds after being struck by one of two Chinese F-8 fighters shadowing the flight — “were most probably too shocked by the bump and the emergency landing to carry out standard procedures for destroying the equipment and material” aboard the plane, “before they were taken into ‘protective custody’” by Chinese military authorities March 31.
Furthermore, DEBKA analysts said, during his visit to Washington, D.C., last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — in trying to assuage the Chinese in meetings with officials from Beijing — offered to refund the $1 billion China had already paid for the Phalcon planes and give Beijing “an array of choice high-tech gadgetry” in exchange.
However, analysts said sources reported that Chinese President Jiang Zemin refused Israel’s offer, declaring “China would not let Israel evade its signed contract, nor, as a matter of principle, renounce technology for which it had paid hard cash” to receive.
“[Zemin] hinted that, before long, China would demonstrate it means business and must be taken seriously,” the report said.
The report also said Sharon attempted to broach the subject with U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, “but the American officials refused to discuss it.”
Then, “seeing there was nothing to be gained from Sharon anymore than from [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak, President Jiang Zemin personally gave the go-ahead for cornering the U.S. Navy EP-3E,” said the report.
By last night, U.S. and Chinese officials remained locked over the return of the U.S. military crew — 21 men and three women — as Beijing continued to insist upon an American apology.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush have both publicly said they “regret” the apparent death of the pilot flying the F-8 that allegedly bumped the Navy plane, but added the U.S. was operating in international airspace and “had nothing to apologize for.”
Bush also said late yesterday that Washington and Beijing “were heavily involved” in negotiations to try to settle the matter.
By accomplishing this, Beijing “can interdict the sea lanes that bring oil to northeast Asia,” as well as “put an end to its worst nightmare, realized in 1996, when American carriers were just off the Chinese coast.”
Also, WND reported Wednesday that the Navy plane may have been fired upon to prevent it from leaving the area after being struck by the Chinese fighter, in an attempt to force it to land at Hainan, Taiwanese and French reports have said.
Pentagon officials said they had not confirmed reports of gunfire directed at the Navy plane.