China’s official media have recently publicized and commemorated the death of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) pilot Wang Wei, who was killed 20 years ago in a collision between the United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft and a PLAN J-8II interceptor fighter jet. Against the backdrop of the tense confrontation between the two countries, the move is seen as a tactic to rally anti-American sentiment.
On April 1, 2001, the EP-3 was operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the PRC island province of Hainan, and about 100 miles (160 km) away from the Chinese military installation in the Paracel Islands, when it was intercepted by two J-8 fighters. A collision between the EP-3 and one of the J-8s caused the PRC pilot to go missing (later presumed dead), and the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan. The J-8 pilot, Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, was posthumously honored in China as a “Guardian of Territorial Airspace and Waters.” His widow received a personal letter of condolence from President George W. Bush.
An official account on WeChat posted an article titled “April 1, the Most Complicated Day for Chinese People.” The article listed a number of incidents that occurred on April 1, the first of which was Wang Wei’s death in service. The article extrapolated from the incident and emphasized that the event has prodded Chinese to work harder and prepare for a comeback. Twenty years later, China is no longer the same China. It also criticized the United States for acting unilaterally, imposing sanctions at will, and for pointing and poking fingers. “The world is scared when the U.S. gets mad.”
On March 31, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece China Global Television Network (CGTN) and Xinhua News Agency also covered the news in high profile. The reports emphasized that Wang was killed because the U.S. military violated China’s territorial airspace. In addition, news media with a military background such as PLA Daily, 81.cn, have also carried articles in memory of Wang.
With no apparent easing of tension between China and the United States, Chinese netizens have paid considerable attention to this incident. Many have left comments criticizing the U.S. for being hegemonic and using its fists to force people into compliance. Some netizens also said, “Today’s China is no longer the China of 20 years ago that would only take orders from the United States,” and “China’s military strength has gradually caught up with that of the United States.”
Source: Central News Agency, April 1, 2021