Not Quite 'Sorry'

On the fourth day of the standoff over a grounded American spy plane, there were indications Wednesday that both the United States and China were looking for a face-saving solution before their relations soured further.

The collision, which forced the American plane to make an emergency landing on an island off China, spiked tensions already rising amid disagreements between Washington and Beijing over missile defenses, human rights and Taiwan.

Since the crash, the 24 U.S. servicemen and women have been held in China with limited access to American diplomats and no word on when they'd come home.

Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday expressed regret over the loss of a Chinese pilot in the collision, but the Chinese said again that before freeing the American crew, they want a formal apology

Full Coverage
  • So Far, So Good
    Foreign policy crisis
  • The Business End
    The trade-offs
  • Beijing's Balancing Act
    Tempering the response
  • Caught In The Middle
    Crew's families worry
  • Names Of The Crew
    A full list
  • China-U.S. Ties
    An interactive look
  • China also offered its version of Sunday's collision, as a Pentagon source said the plane's fliers did manage to destroy sensitive data and hardware on the plane, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

    Before Powell's statement of regret, both countries seemed to be ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure. Powell, for example, began referring to the spy plane crew as detainees.

    China's president President Jiang Zemin and Beijing's ambassador to the United States Wednesday demanded an American apology for Sunday's collision.

    Zemin made his statement on his way out of town for a visit to South America from which he won't return until mid-April, meaning the release of the crew could be delayed at least until then.

    Later, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher was summoned to a meeting with the Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, where Tang demanded an apology for the incident and Prueher refused.

    The Cinese demands flew in the face of President Bush's warning, issued on Tuesday, that relations between the two nations could suffer if the plane and its crew of 24 weren't returned as soon as possible.

    But Tang appeared to leave the door open for compromise when he said that China "hopes to see the collision incident resolved appropriately as soon as possible," according to state television and Xinhua. Tang said China wanted to protect its "sovereignty and dignity."

    Weigh in with your opinion on the U.S.-China situation, on the bulletin board.

    CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen reports the Chinese feel their sovereignty has been violated by an American plane that spied on China, downed one of their jets and then landed without permission on one of their military bases.

    In his statement, Powell said he regretted "the loss of life of that Chinese pilot but now we need to move on."

    "We need to bring this to a resolution and we're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations," he said.

    A Chinese Embassy press counselor indicated Powell's remarks are a good first step. But he added that the secretary's comment does not necessarily reflect the official government position.

    Another step Beijing has asked for is a halt to spy flights. The U.S. is not likely to agree to that, but the fact is there have been no surveillance flights over the South China Sea since the accident, and none are scheduled

    However, instead of accepting responsibility for the accident, Powell only offered to provide the Chinese with an explanation of what happened. That would require access to the crew.

    CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports the White House says the U.S. has again asked for another meeting with the American crew, but China has not yet responded to request.

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Tuesday he didn't know when the crew would be released, and their fate would depend on a Chinese investigation.

    Officials said Mr. Bush's national security team was considering a range of options in the event China does not act quickly. The options, which the officials said have not reached Mr. Bush's desk, include canceling Mr. Bush's planned trip to Beijing announced just last month during a White House visit by China's deputy prime minister, and withdrawing some diplomats from China.

    The U.S. could also block China's bid for the 2008 Olympics or their accession to the WTO.

    Senior administration officials tell CBS News that they are only in the early stages of knowing what kind of flexibility the Chinese have. There may come a time when President Bush needs to talk to Chinese President Jiang directly, reports CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Robert.

    President Bush must be careful not to force them into a corner, says James Lilley, the former Ambassador to China.

    "What you do is let them come to their own conclusion by presenting them alternatives," said Lilley. "Incentives to do the thing we think will help the relationship and disincentives if they go the other way."

    The American general who met with the crew on Tuesday asked them if they had completed their emergency destruction plan and, in his words, there was a resounding chorus of "yes."

    After the collision, the crew had about a half-hour to destroy the plane's spy gear, smashing hard drives and pouring acid on documents.

    But intelligence officials say the Chinese are still busy picking apart what remains of the plane's high-tech gear, despite American insistence that it was sovereign territory and couldn't be entered without its commander's permission.

    Pictures of the EP-3E in state newspapers Wednesday showed damage to its leftmost propeller and the underside of its left wing. The plane's nose cone containing its radar antennae appeared to have been removed.

    Captions claimed the damage was evidence that the American plane had veered erratically to the left, causing it to collide with the Chinese jet flying wing-to-wing 1,300 feet away.

    The U.S. plane
    made an emergency landing
    in Hainan.

    In their scenario, the two Chinese jets were flying parallel, about 400 yards to the left of the U.S. plane, putting themselves between the U.S. plane and the Chinese coastline when without warning, the EP3 suddenly veered left.

    The left wing and the nose cone on the American plane rammed the tail of the Chinese jet, ripping it into pieces and sending it spiraling into the sea.

    The U.S. says the Chinese version is absurd. U.S. officials speculate the Chinese pilot failed to compensate for the turbulence caused by the planes' propellers.

    Amid the rising tensions, CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports some members of Congress have introduced legislation to strip China of its permanent normal trade status.

    Meanwhile, CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier in Hong Kong reports the Japanese government and other Asian leaders, apparently concerned about where the dispute may be headed, are calling for a de-escalation of the diplomatic rhetoric.

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