Between a thick outpouring of flag-waving patriotism, widespread domestic praise for leadership through crisis and condemnation of China, US President George W. Bush has a strong mandate for firm action against Beijing in coming weeks. The 24 crew members had barely landed in Hawaii before Mr Bush was making clear he was no mood to accept renewed Chinese criticism of the US. His staff would be going into next week's meeting to examine the collision asking 'tough questions about China's practice of challenging US aircraft operating legally in international airspace'. 'This kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our countries,' Mr Bush said. 'Reconnaissance flights are a part of a comprehensive national security strategy that helps maintain peace and stability around the world.' His comments followed a fresh drive by China to blame the US for the collision and justify keeping the EP-3 surveillance plane. Beijing will also use the meeting to try and restrict US intensified surveillance of its coastal military build-up. However, a range of US analysts and administration officials warn that the Bush team is likely to stand firm and possibly even act increasingly suspicious of China in coming months. 'The meeting could be the first sign of the real damage to ties after this . . . neither side seems in any mood to give way,' one administration source said. 'It is going to be a very tense affair but one we still do hope will bring us to the stage of workable relations once again.' Mr Bush's position was being buttressed by reports of the aircrew debriefing in Hawaii, with military sources claiming the US plane did not cause the collision. The US media seems generally supportive of his handling of the stand-off, with many articles rebuking Beijing over its actions. 'China's confrontational rhetoric and delay in returning the crew members did not win Beijing any friends in Washington,' the New York Times stated. While the complexity of the modern Sino-US relationship - not to mention a US$115 billion (HK$897 billion) annual trade relationship - meant Mr Bush had few short-term punitive measures up his sleeve to pressure China to release the crew, Washington may reveal its feelings in other ways. Officials said the White House had yet to give a firm signal to President Jiang Zemin that it would dignify him with a full summit after the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Shanghai in September. They stress, however, that the forthcoming decision on arms sales to Taiwan will involve wider factors. Bates Gill, a senior fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution think-tank, warned that the incident meant the administration had to be increasingly aware of China's complexities. Greater understanding was needed of the PLA's role in wider leadership decisions and Sino-US relations should not simply be boiled down to a 'strategic competition'. 'There are lessons to be learned in how to deal with a China that will be increasingly capable and, if we are not careful, increasingly willing to frustrate American interests in East Asia,' Mr Gill said.