China bill easy as 34567

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The United States has decided to pay China $34,567 to cover costs related to the crippled Navy surveillance plane that made an emergency landing in southern China after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The sum falls far short of the approximately $1 million China asked the United States to pay, though some experts complained that any payment at all would be excessive. China detained the 24-member Whidbey Island-based crew for 11 days while demanding a U.S. apology for the April 1 collision.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, while refusing to confirm the figure, said it was determined independently by the Defense Department and was "nonnegotiable." He said it represented the "fair value" of services China provided. "That’s the end of it," he said.

China had demanded U.S. payment for housing and feeding the crew, allowing the EP-3 to land and helping to dismantle the plane for transport back to the United States.

The Bush administration blamed the Chinese fighter jet for the collision in international airspace. But after a tense standoff, it won the crew’s release by saying the United States was "very sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot and for the plane’s landing without permission. Further haggling preceded the release of the plane, which came home in pieces July 3.

"Even one cent is too much," said David Shambaugh, a China specialist at George Washington University and the Brookings Institution. "I suppose there are some legitimate costs associated with the dismantling and transport of the aircraft, but it was their decision not to let us fix it and fly it out."

But one of the administration’s more conservative officials said the figure was reasonable. "As far as Defense Department accounting goes, this is pretty close to zero," he said. "If this is the price it takes to resolve this, OK. It’s cheaper than sending delegations back and forth to talk about it."

China experts and administration officials predicted China would not complain about the amount, since it wants to smooth relations and prepare for President Bush’s planned visit to China in October.

"There was a particular dollar figure attached to each element of (the bill) the Chinese had given to us," Quigley said. "We did not agree with each of those categories, nor their dollar figures, so we took an independent look at that … and that is what the total represents."

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