BEIJING -- The official Chinese news agency claimed Wednesday the country's armed forces shot down a high-flying American U-2 spy aircraft in 1965, a secret it said had been kept for 22 years.
'Back in 1965, the Chinese People's Liberation Army shot down an American U-2 high-altitude reconnaisance plane that violated Chinese airspace,' the official Xinhua news agency said in a dispatch. 'It was the world's first use of a ground-to-air missile against a high-altitude plane.'
The Xinhua revelation was contained in an unusually glib, seven-paragraph account of the opening of an 'achievement show' by China's Ministry of Astronautics. It said the 'secret that has been kept for 22 years has been finally let out of the bag.'
'The developers of the missile have kept silent ... until today,' Xinhua said, adding a model of the missile that shot down the U-2 in 1965 was on display at the astronautics show.
The dispatch gave no further details and part of it was contradicted by an official. Asked about the report, Ma Yuzhen, chief spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said it was not the first time China has claimed to have hit U.S. spy planes.
'According to my knowledge, as early as in the 1960s we have reported many times the shooting down of some U-2 planes,' Ma said. 'The shrapnels of these planes were once on display in the military museum.'
The dispatch did not note the most famous U-2 incident: the Soviet Union's use of an anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a U-2 piloted by U.S. Air Force Capt. Francis Gary Powers May 1, 1960 over the Soviet Union.
Powers was arrested and sentenced on espionage charges to 10 years in prison.
An East-West summit in Paris collapsed on opening day, May 16, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev demanded President Dwight Eisenhower apologize for U-2 flights over the Soviet Union.
In February 1962, Powers was freed in a spy swap for Rudolf Abel, who in 1957 was arrested in New York, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison on espionage charges.
Powers died Aug. 1, 1977, when the helicopter he was flying as a television reporter crashed in Encino, Calif.