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CHINA EXPELS 2 U.S. OFFICERS FOR SPYING

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Two U.S. Air Force officers were expelled by China Thursday after being accused of spying and detained for five days. They arrived in Hong Kong apparently in good condition.

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong said Col. Joseph Wei Chan and Capt. Dwayne Howard Florenzie arrived about noon (midnight Wednesday EDT) from Xiamen, a city in China's southern Fujian province. The consulate, where both men are based as liaison officers, said they appeared to be healthy.The Chinese government on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of the two officers, who U.S. intelligence sources said were caught spying on a military facility on China's southeast coast, across from Taiwan.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said the two "sneaked into a number of restricted military zones in China's southeast coastal areas and illegally acquired military intelligence by photographing and videotaping," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Shen said the officers, who entered China on July 23, were caught "on the spot" Saturday "by Chinese soldiers on duty." He gave no other details.

Sources in Washington with close links to intelligence agencies said the two Americans were under instruction to find out what they could about military exercises that China conducted last month in the East China Sea north of Taiwan.

Those exercises included missile tests and flights of high-performance Su-27s fighter-bombers that China has purchased from Russia.

U.S. officials acknowledged the two were on a spying mission. "This is what defense attaches do," one senior Clinton administration official said.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Wednesday the two officers were on "authorized travel" when they were detained, but did not deny the charges.

Some American officials viewed the fact that China was expelling the officers rather than continuing to detain them as a mildly positive sign at a time when U.S.-Chinese relations are shakier than at any time since China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

U.S. officials did not learn of the detentions from Chinese authorities until Wednesday.

The State Department said Secretary of State Warren Christopher was aware that the officers were unaccounted for when he met Tuesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in Brunei.