The United States has temporarily suspended all surveillance flights in and around China in the wake of an incident involving a U.S. Navy EP-3E and a Chinese fighter last week, sources told WorldNetDaily.

The military source, who requested anonymity, said such surveillance flights were “now on hold,” but gave no indication when the Pentagon would resume them.

Also, the source said that immediately after the plane went down, Navy leaders wanted to stage “a big show of force,” but were outranked by the commander in chief.

“[President] Bush told them to go play somewhere else,” the source said.

U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane.

A Pentagon spokesman told WND that Defense Department officials had discussed a suspension of intelligence flights, but “no official suspension” of those flights has been ordered.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Hong Kong media reported yesterday that 10 People’s Liberation Army Air Force fighters had been scrambled to “warn off” a total of five U.S. “spy planes … in an unidentified area in coastal China.”

“Under the close monitor of our aircrafts, the U.S. spy planes were eventually scampered out of China’s coastal areas,” said the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po, quoting an unnamed Chinese military official.

The intercepts reportedly took place on Thursday, Chinese officials said, adding that fighters were “immediately dispatched … after the U.S. planes were located.”

Sources said it was the first such occurrence since the March 31 incident involving a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter, which collided in midair, causing the EP-3E to make an emergency landing at China’s Hainan Island airbase.

The Chinese fighter reportedly crashed, Beijing said, and its pilot has yet to be recovered.

The 24 crew members aboard the U.S. plane remain in Beijing’s custody, while U.S. and Chinese officials meet privately to discuss their release. President Bush yesterday said negotiations were “moving forward,” but by late Friday evening an agreement had not been reached.

Critics of the Bush administration have called for immediate trade and economic sanctions against China, for as long as it continues to hold the American crew, and consumer activists — taking on a nationalistic voice — have called for boycotts of Chinese-made goods until the incident is resolved.

The Hong Kong paper said Thursday’s intercepts brought to 63 the number of U.S. surveillance planes that have been detected by the Chinese military in coastal areas so far this year.

In all, the paper said, the U.S. conducted 950 flights in 2000.

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