South Korea announced today that a Chinese Navy pilot who crash-landed his bomber in a rice field there last Saturday would be allowed to go to Taiwan despite protests from Peking.
The South Korean announcement said that the other surviving member of the plane crew would be sent home to China, as would the body of the navigator, who was killed in the crash-landing of the Soviet-designed H5 light bomber.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed deep regret over the South Korean announcement and said in a statement that China "once again strongly demands the South Korean authorities to return the entire crew of that aircraft to our side."
A western diplomat here called the Chinese reaction "stiff but predictable."
The diplomat said that the Chinese obviously found it "humiliating" to have a pilot defect and to have the South Koreans refuse to return him to China. But this diplomat and others here said that it was clear that the Chinese and South Koreans had kept in touch on the incident through a communications link set up last March in Hong Kong when a Chinese torpedo boat entered South Korean waters after an apparent mutiny and defection attempt.
The diplomats said that the latest incident was not expected to have much impact on the slowly developing informal relations between China and South Korea, which have included both direct and indirect trade.
"Defections have become a semipermanent feature of relations" between Peking and Seoul, one diplomat said. "It's uncomfortable for both sides, but they just have to live with it . . . . It would appear that they are still talking."