China acknowledged today that one of its military planes landed yesterday in South Korea. It asked South Korean authorities to return the plane and the surviving crew members. [The South Korean government announced earlier that a Chinese plane had crash-landed in a rice field after running out of fuel and that one member of the three-man crew had been killed, along with a worker on the ground. The pilot, who was badly hurt, asked for political asylum, while the third crew member, who was not injured, asked to be returned to China, the announcement said.]
The Chinese issued a low-key statement about the missing plane, first on television and then through the official New China News Agency. The statement implied hope that the problem of the missing plane, whose pilot apparently flew it to South Korea in an attempt to defect, could be worked out in quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations between China and South Korea.
This low-key approach was used successfully by Peking last March, when a Chinese torpedo boat, which appeared to be involved in a defection attempt, entered South Korean waters and was towed to a South Korean island. Shooting had broken out on the boat, and six of its 19 crew members were killed and two wounded. The South Koreans eventually returned the boat and surviving crew members to the Chinese following an exchange of messages, some of which were conveyed by United States officials who acted as intermediaries. Both China and South Korea ended up by saying that the torpedo boat was not involved in a defection attempt.
Tonight's brief Chinese statement about the missing plane said that Chinese authorities had lost contact with a military plane southeast of the port of Qingdao on the Yellow Sea. It quoted the South Koreans as saying the plane had made an emergency landing in South Korea. It said China hoped the South Korean authorities would return the plane and crew members to China "as soon as possible."
China and South Korea have no diplomatic relations but do trade extensively. Much of the trade was originally arranged through Hong Kong businessmen acting as middlemen. Today ships sometimes sail directly between the two countries.
The plane incident was the fifth apparent defection attempt via South Korea in the past three years. The first occurred on Oct. 16, 1982, when a Chinese Air Force pilot flew his MiG19 fighter to the South Korean capital of Seoul. The South Korean government let him go on from there to Taiwan. South Korea kept the plane.