Press Corps Endures International Incident
By Michael Abramowitz
BEIJING, Aug. 8--A three-hour standoff between the White House and Chinese authorities was resolved satisfactorily this morning without international incident.
Did the dustup have anything to do with matters of state, such as a downed spy plane or an imprisoned dissident? Alas, the subject was a bit more mundane: the rules under which the White House press corps would be allowed to enter China.
The situation unfolded in the wee hours of the morning here, when the press charter carrying reporters covering President Bush's trip to Asia arrived at the Beijing airport after a five-hour flight from Bangkok.
On most presidential travel abroad, the charter is met on the tarmac by buses that pick up reporters and take them directly to their hotel and filing center, without going through normal customs and airport procedures. That's the arrangement the White House usually negotiates with host countries--and it's the arrangment the White House believed it had negotiated with the Chinese.
But when the charter arrived a little after 2 am this morning, the control tower directed the pilots to the regular terminal, where the authorities were apparently planning to treat the travelers like normal tourists. The White House balked at this plan on the grounds that it was not what had been previously agreed to.
White House officials said they had a number of concerns but apparently uppermost was the prospect that the Chinese could rummage through reporters' belongings on their way into the country.
The standoff lasted about three hours: reporters and White House staff remained on the plane as U.S. Embassy officials negotiated a way out of the impasse. On board the charter, nervous network correspondents began tracking tape, worried that they might miss planned appearances on the nightly news shows.
Finally a resolution was reached a little after 5 am. Reporters filed individually through passport control but there was no searching of their bags and gear.
Explaining the situation was White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, one of several press aides on the plane. "There was a difference of opinion over how the White House press corps would proceed from the airport to the hotel. We worked with our hosts to make arrangements that were agreeable to both parties."
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