And The Winner Is?

Asian governments welcomed the resolution of the U.S.-China spy plane crisis, but editorial writers and the public were divided on Thursday over which country was to blame and who emerged victorious.

An editorial in the mass-circulation South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo said it was "a victory for China" when President Bush said the United States was "very sorry" for a Chinese pilot's death and the U.S. crew's making an emergency landing without permission in China.

But The Australian newspaper ruled in favor of Mr. Bush. It condemned China for detaining the U.S. crew members on Hainan Island after their plane collided with one of two Chinese warplanes pursuing it in international airspace. The Chinese plane crashed and its pilot is missing and presumed dead.

"One of the harsh realities the spy plane crisis in Hainan reveals is just how little store the Chinese leadership sets by international law and how much in the crude use of power," The Australian said. "There was no legal basis for detaining the U.S. crew."

In downtown Tokyo, Naoe Yanagisawa, a 47-year-old housewife, said she saw the impasse as a political game, a way for China and United States to test each other's mettle.

"I knew they would resolve their differences. They were just waiting for the right opportunity to do it," she said.

But others seemed more concerned and emotional.

"China teaches the U.S. a lesson on sovereignty," said a headline in The Singapore Straits Times newspaper.

In Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with some autonomy, the Ming Pao Daily News blamed Mr. Bush's "arrogance" for the diplomatic row.

Some Hong Kong residents were angered by China's decision to free the 24 U.S. Navy crew members, who flew in a chartered U.S. plane to Guam and then to Hawaii on Thursday.

Lam Chun-fai, a 73-year-old retiree, said China should not have released the crew so soon.

"They come right up to our front door and killed our man. That kind of behavior is unacceptable for any country," he said. "It's like someone slapping you on the face and just saying, 'Sorry.'"

The spy plane story
is top news in Taiwan
and around the world    (AP)
Some Malaysians also defended China's right to protect itself from what they felt was U.S. meddling.

"If they were spying, China must be more firm. Sorry is not enough. The U.S. must be taught to respect the independence of other countries," said Alan Ting, a businessman in Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

After the plane collision on April 1, it took 11 days of diplomacy before the two sides drafted a letter that satisfied China. Beijing portrayed it as an apology, using the expression "shenbiao qianyi," or deep apology or regret.

"U.S. blinks: China to free spy plane crew," "U.S. meets China halfway with doble sorry," and "U.S., China adopt face-saving formula," were some of the headlines in India's newspapers. None made the front page.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "extremely happy" that the crisis was resolved. European countries such as Britain joined in the praise.

Asia showed relief that the conflict had not escalated. Some had feared that the standoff might affect peace talks between North and South Korea, territorial disputes in Southeast Asia, and billions of dollars in international business.

Japanese officials had worried about the economic and security implications of a large-scale conflict. Japan hosts 50,000 American troops under a security alliance with the United States and relies entirely on imported oil arriving through shipping lanes in the South China Sea.

"Considering that good U.S.-China relations are important for the peace and stability in the Asia and Pacific areas, our country has been working on (both sides) for a speedy and smooth solution to the standoff," Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said.

Thailand and Indonesia echoed that sentiment, with Indonesia's Foreign Ministry saying, "This is the best to way to solve the problem between the two nations."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard praised Bush for handling "the issue with a great deal of patience but also considerable strength."

South Korea struck a more cautious note, saying the fate of the spy plane, which remains in Hainan, still has to be resolved.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said it "felt delighted" by the crew's release.

But Taiwanese analysts suggested the island might pay the biggest price for the incident, saying the crew's release could prompt Washington to cave in to China's demands not to sell the island high-tech warships — a crucial decision expected to be made this month.

"The crisis hasn't ended for Taiwan. It has just begun," said political scientist Chao Chun-shan.

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