Pilot's defection: ammunition for mainland China

When Wang Xijue landed his Boeing 747 cargo plane in mainland China last weekend, he gave the Peking government an unexpected advantage in its campaign against Taiwan. The incident, which highlights the ongoing propaganda war between the rival governments, was quickly exploited by mainland authorities in their attempt to wear down Taipei's policy of no direct contact and no direct communications with mainland China.

One of the most experienced pilots for the Taiwan-based China Airlines, Mr. Wang diverted his aircraft during a flight from Bangkok to Taipei via Hong Kong last Saturday. Instead of landing in Hong Kong, he veered 80 miles north and made an emergency landing in Canton. This was the first case of a civilian pilot from Taiwan defecting to the mainland, though three military pilots have defected in the past five years.

Upon arrival in Canton, according to the official New China News Agency, Wang said he missed his father and elder brother whom he had not seen since he fled the mainland in 1948. He also said he was willing to fly for the state airline, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). ``The continent of China is so vast, . . . I think I can still fly for several years. I am willing to serve China,'' he is quoted as saying.

A China Airlines official in Taipei said Wang had been rated as ``most trustworthy'' and that he had a happy family situation and no financial troubles. Wang has a wife and three children and their home reportedly is in an affluent section of Taipei.

In an emotional statement on Taiwan television Sunday, Mrs. Wang pleaded with her husband to come home and said she doubted he had acted of his own free will.

``They must have found a way to trap my husband or force him to take his plane to the Chinese mainland,'' she said, according to UPI.

On Monday an official for CAAC in Peking asserted otherwise. ``He came over of his own accord. He didn't fly here at the point of a sword,'' the official said.

In a well-publicized cable, CAAC asked China Airlines to send a representative to Peking to discuss how to deal with the $60 million plane, its cargo of fruit and rubber tires, and its crew. Wang's two copilots have said they want to return to Taiwan, and mainland officials have indicated they are free to go home. No other people were reported to be aboard the flight.

Larry Lin of China Airlines in Taipei affirmed that the airline would abide by its government's policy of making no direct contact with the mainland. In a telephone interview from Peking, he said that the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific airline was acting as an intermediary and that talks were already underway. CAAC officials in Peking would not confirm such talks.

The apparent defection has given Peking some leverage over Taiwan, though it is not yet clear whether Peking has given up trying to force Taiwan to sit down in face-to-face discussions on the issue.

``It seems to me they will handle this in a non-confrontational manner to make it easier to bring about discussions on reunification,'' said a Western diplomat. Gaining control over Taiwan is one of Peking's highest priorities.

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