After yielding the top spot in yesterday's papers to news that the Senate passed a tax cut, the U.S.-Chinese standoff over the American spy plane trapped in China takes the lead again. The top stories at the Washington Post, New York Times,and Los Angeles Times report that China is now insisting that the U.S. should do more to resolve the situation, including apologize.
This development comes courtesy of China's top foreign policy official, Qian Qichen who, the papers report, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday calling the U.S. response to the incident "unacceptable." Qian said the U.S. should apologize before the two sides further discuss how to resolve the situation. The WP believes Qian's statement implies that the release of the crew will be contingent on an American apology. Qian's wasn't the only Chinese voice criticizing the U.S. yesterday. All the papers include statements from the Chinese defense minister, who said the U.S. is shirking responsibility, and from the wife of the missing Chinese pilot, who wrote to President Bush from her grief-induced sickbed accusing the U.S. of being too cowardly to apologize.
As for whether or not Beijing's tough statements concern the Bush administration--well, it depends on who you ask. The NYT spoke to a senior American official who claims the signals coming from the Chinese have the administration worried that the Chinese military could delay a resolution of the situation and the release of the American crew. But a State Department official the WP talked to downplayed the gravity of the new developments: "It looks bad in public, but in private we're still working the same things we were working before."
So what's the next move for the United States? The papers report that the U.S. position is unchanged and an apology will not be forthcoming. The NYT mentions a possible face-saving solution for both sides: Beijing has privately emphasized that it wants "an explanation" for the incident, which American officials believe is different from an apology. The LAT explains that a letter of understanding, which yesterday's headlines heralded as a sign of progress, is still being reviewed by Bush and Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
The WP and NYT run companion pieces to their U.S.-China stand-off leads. The Post looks at why the Chinese president is in a tricky position. Jiang must soothe China's hurt feelings without seriously damaging U.S.-Chinese relations. If he blunders in the high-stakes game China is playing with the U.S., Jiang may find himself pushed from power, say Chinese political analysts. The Times notes that China's recent military buildup is making Taiwan nervous. Beijing is flying fighter planes around Taiwan frequently these days, threatening what a Taiwanese pilot calls the "fuzzy peace" between China and Taiwan.
The LAT fronts and the NYT and WP go inside with news that NASA successfully launched a spacecraft bound for Mars yesterday. Because two Mars missions failed in 1999, the LAT and NYT say the blast-off is the beginning of a mission of redemption for NASA. In October, the spacecraft will begin an orbit around the red planet in search of evidence of water, and thus perhaps life, on Mars.
The WP goes below the fold with a story on how House Republicans and the White House have picked 45 federal rules, including regulations on labor, abortion, and the environment, to try to overturn. The Post calls the move a broad assault on Clinton's last minute flurry of legislation. Inside the NYT is the news that the White House wants to significantly modify another of the policies Clinton enacted late in his term: federal regulations governing the privacy of medical records which are scheduled to take effect on April 14. The administration believes that Clinton's regulations would disrupt the health-care industry and impose unreasonable burdens on care providers. As written, the rules would force doctors to get patient consent before disclosing information and limit the information that can be disclosed.
The papers reefer news service reports on a helicopter crash in Vietnam which killed seven Americans and nine Vietnamese. Those killed were on a mission to recover the remains of American servicemen from the Vietnam War.
Everybody also reefers the news that Tiger Woods, up by a stroke in the Masters, is 18 holes away from becoming the first golfer to be the reigning champion of all four majors.
And they can tie their own shoes too! A few days ago, the NYT reported (and Today's Papers noted) that American officials brought candy to hand out to the crew of the American spy plane. Today, the Post reports that the U.S. ambassador to China praised crew members for "acting just like their parents would like them to act."