HONG KONG -- China ended four days of unprecedented talks with Taiwan airline officials today with a promise to deliver a hijacked cargo jet and its crew to Hong Kong by Saturday.
The exact date of the delivery was left open after a three-hour meeting at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club because of 'technical' considerations, a spokesman for Taiwan's China Airlines said.
China broke a deadlock Monday in the first direct negotiations between the two Chinas since 1949 when it backed down from a demand that the jet be handed over in the southern Chinese city of Canton, where it was diverted by its defecting pilot this month.
The meeting today was the fourth session in as many days and produced a written agreement setting out details for the transfer.
'We are glad that countrymen on both banks of the (Taiwan) Strait have paid attention to the discussions and that we have lived up to their expectations,' said chief Chinese negotiator Zhang Ruipu. 'Facts show that there is indeed no problem between us countrymen that cannot be solved.'
However, Taiwan officials, who deviated from their 37-year-old ban on talks with China only reluctantly, refused to comment on the Chinese description of the talks as 'friendly.'
'The atmosphere was commercial,' said China Airlines spokesman C.C. Hwang.
Hwang said there would be no further meetings between the two sides in Hong Kong before the handover of the Boeing 747 cargo jet. 'They will inform us (of the date) or maybe they will tell the airport authorities,' he said.
A crew from Peking's Civil Aviation Authority of China will fly the jumbo jet from Peking, where it currently is held under tight security, to Canton to pick up two Taiwan crewmen who are to be repatriated, officials said.
Under the agreement signed by the two sides the cargo jet and two crewmen will then be flown from Canton to Hong Kong, where Taiwan's flag carrier will take formal possession of the plane.
A China Airlines official said the plane would remain in Hong Kong to be thoroughly checked but the crew would be flown home on another aircraft. He said the airline would 'consider' making them available for interviews in Hong Kong.
China first proposed the talks May 3, immediately after defecting pilot Wang Xijue diverted the cargo jet to the south Chinese city of Canton with two other crewmen on board.
Taiwan surprised the world by agreeing to the talks last week, breaking with their longtime policy of 'no compromise, no contact and no talks' with China.
The meetings, which began Saturday, produced an immediate deadlock over China's demand that Taiwan's China Airlines send representatives to Canton for the plane. CAL refused for 'security and other reasons,' and proposed to send a third party for the plane or to have it flown the 85 miles to the British colony of Hong Kong.
At a news conference following Monday's breakthrough, Zhang said China still believed Canton was the 'most ideal place for the transfer' but that his side had relented 'to enable the two crew members to be reunited with their families as soon as possible.'
Taiwan, for its part, dropped its request for the immediate return of the pilot but reserved the right to request his return later.