US right likely to play tough

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2001, 12:00am

Protracted wrangling over the downed American spy plane and its crew will find little favour in Republican-dominated Washington.

Congressional figures were returning to offices in the capital last night warning that President George W. Bush could find himself under pressure from the right-wing of his own party to get tough with Beijing should disputes over the plane escalate.

'Anti-Beijing tensions may have subsided a little over the last year, but make no mistake, we are in no mood to put up with any dispute over this,' a veteran Republican warned. 'Anything other than complete co-operation will be viewed very negatively indeed.'

Many Republican figures in Congress, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief Jesse Helms and Majority Leader Trent Lott, are further to the right than many in the administration - and not afraid to express their views on Beijing.

Taiwan has many friends in Congress while suspicion over claims of mainland espionage, examined in the so-called Cox Congressional Report two years ago, remains high.

The fact that the US plane was engaged in a surveillance operation is unlikely to trouble many political insiders here.

'There is a pervading view among Republicans that America carries out 'vital surveillance' to protect our interests while it is everybody else that is doing the spying,' another Republican official said. 'There will be little sense that we will be in the wrong.'

Former Republican presidential hopeful, Arizona Senator John McCain, demanded China respect American requests not to inspect or enter the EP-3 electronic surveillance plane.

China's claim that the US plane caused the collision by veering into one of its fighters, which crashed, may be an attempt to justify holding the highly sensitive aircraft and its crew, Washington insiders believe.