August 20, 2010 12:28
China on Thursday said a North Korean MiG-21 fighter jet crashed in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning on Tuesday due to mechanical failure. The state-run Xinhua news agency said the plane, which crashed in Lagu Township in Fushun County, went off course due to a technical defect and strayed into Chinese territory.
Xinhua said China and North Korea "reached consensus" on dealing with the aftermath and the North apologized.
When it first reported the crash on Tuesday, Xinhua did not identify the nationality of the fighter jet and covered the incident only briefly, saying the crash damaged a farm house but no Chinese casualties were reported while the pilot died on impact.
Foreign diplomats in Beijing still believe the pilot was trying to defect. One diplomat who is a military expert said, "If it was mechanical failure, why would the pilot have flown 200 km and crashed when there were plenty of landing strips on the way? It seems that both China and North Korea are trying to play down the incident."
Shortly after the accident, rumors spread on Chinese websites that there was a copilot aboard the jet who ejected before the crash. But there was apparently only one pilot. Experts believe China will return the remains of the jet to North Korea since there is nothing to be learned from studying the old Soviet model.
Meanwhile, Chinese websites are abuzz with criticism over the Chinese response, asking why no interceptors were mobilized even though a North Korean fighter flew 200 km into Chinese territory. Hong Kong-based military analyst Ma Dingsheng told the South China Morning Post, "Looking at the photos of the crash site, it is clear that the North Korean jet was not shot down. It is a serious problem that the People's Liberation Army failed to detect the intrusion of the North Korean fighter plane."
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