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STANDOFF WITH CHINA: U.S. AIRCRAFT HELD

U.S. Conservatives Urge Firm Stand

Congress: Defense hawks warn that they won't accept any resolution that requires Washington to apologize to China or curb flights.

April 05, 2001|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Defense hawks have held their tongues so far about the standoff over the crippled U.S. Navy spy plane, but some are signaling that their silence won't last if the White House yields ground on China's demands to settle the issue.

Still delighted to have George W. Bush in the White House, conservative lawmakers who consistently push for a tougher U.S. policy toward China have offered broad support to the administration during the standoff over the EP-3 reconnaissance plane. The electronic intelligence aircraft was forced to land on China's Hainan island Sunday after a collision with a Chinese F-8 aircraft.

"Our policy on China should be much more constant than to be affected by current events," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who led a congressional study that found fault with U.S. policy on China during the Clinton administration.

Others who have been outspoken on China policy, such as Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have made only general comments and refrained from prodding the administration.

Yet as the White House seeks a middle ground that could end the standoff, some defense conservatives are warning that they will not accept any deal that would require the United States to make a formal apology, pay compensation or reduce intelligence-gathering.

"You always want to support the commander in chief on international issues," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of Senate Armed Services Committee. "But I think there would be concern about the Chinese forcing us to acquiesce to something that is not true."

McCain said it was "not possible" for the United States to consider limiting its rights to conduct surveillance in the region, noting that the EP-3 was in international airspace when it collided with the Chinese F-8.

The United States owes China no apology, and if compensation is made, "it should be to us, for our plane," he said.

Kenneth Adelman, who was President Reagan's arms control chief, said the Bush administration "has been doing a fine job" in handling the incident so far.

"I just hope they don't have to cave," he said.

The United States "can't give way on any of those [demands] without reducing our own security in the Pacific," said Adelman, who is now affiliated with TechCentralStation.com, an Internet site.

The United States and China might attempt to resolve the crisis through an unannounced side deal, some analysts have suggested. That's what the Kennedy administration did during the Cuban missile crisis, when it secretly agreed to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey after the Soviets removed missiles that threatened the United States.

But Gary Schmitt of the Project for the New American Century, a conservative advocacy group, said it would be a mistake for the Bush administration to make a secret side deal, such as cutting back on surveillance flights.

"People would be looking for that," he said. "I don't think they could pull it off."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) said the administration should not make any significant concessions to China in exchange for release of the crew or return of the aircraft.

"No. It's as simple as that," he said.

By avoiding threatening actions, Rohrabacher said, the administration is "handling this as best as they can, for now."

But within "one or two days," he added, the absence of visible U.S. pressure on the Chinese would be interpreted as weakness. At that point, Rohrabacher said, the administration would need to begin taking steps to punish the Chinese for holding the plane and its 24-member crew.

The government might cut off exchange programs, end subsidies that finance trade, or revoke special trade status, he suggested.

He said that, in his view, the detention of the crew had solidified congressional support for approving Taiwan's request to purchase the most advanced air defense radars. The administration is due to decide this month whether to sell Taiwan the Aegis naval radar system, which is capable of defending against a large number of incoming planes and missiles.

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