Chinese shipper wants U.S. to pay for search


BEIJING -- The Chinese company that owns the ship wrongly accused of ferrying chemical weapon components to Iran demanded almost $13 million in damages from the United States yesterday.

The compensation claim -- already rejected by the United States -- capped a week in which China has sought daily to milk every angle of the affair for its potential propaganda advantage here and abroad.

Though not likely to lead to direct retaliation by China, the incident and China's resultant rhetoric underscore sharply rising mistrust in Chinese-U.S. relations.

"We strongly demand that the U.S. make a public apology, acknowledge its erroneous conduct and compensate for all losses incurred," said Dai Qiquan, executive vice president of China Ocean Shipping Co., the nation's largest ship owner.

Mr. Dai's demands mirror those of the Foreign Ministry and government news media as they trumpeted the unsuccessful search for the two suspected chemicals aboard the ship in a 10-day inspection in Saudi Arabia that ended Saturday. The inspection was carried out by a Chinese-Saudi team aided by U.S. advisers.

China appears to want to use the incident as much as possible to diminish U.S. pressure on a wide variety of issues that have caused friction between the two nations, from human rights to arms sales.

This week, China called the U.S. a "naked world cop" and a "hegemonic bully." It claimed that the true source of Chinese-U.S. problems are the "politically short-sighted" in the United States who view China "as an enemy for ideological reasons."

The United States says it sought the inspection of the ship because U.S. intelligence reports placed the chemicals aboard the Yinhe and bound for Iran. China's arms transfers to the Middle East long have been a U.S. concern.

Suggestions this week in the United States that the suspected chemicals might have been dumped before the inspection were called "stupid" by the Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman, Wu Jianmin.

Mr. Wu said that without special equipment that is not available at sea, it would take a "superman" to move the heavy containers used on the ship. "We're no supermen," he said.

As a result of the ship's being delayed 33 days when the United States forced it to change its schedule and undergo the inspection, Mr. Dai said, his company lost $12.93 million.

He broke that down into $2.93 million in "fixed" costs and at least $10 million in losses to the company's reputation and a "drastic drop" in its Persian Gulf business.

If the United States does not pay, Mr. Dai said, he will take his company's claim to international tribunals.

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