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Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Bush's delicate balancing act
US President George W Bush
Bush's decisions are complicated by domestic politics
BBC Washington Correspondent Tom Carver

Before the election, George Bush's advisers suggested that the next administration would develop a new approach towards China. And they were right.

President Bush publicly marked the shift very clearly by disposing of Bill Clinton's description of China being a "strategic partner" and replacing it with "strategic competitor".

But conservatives who salivated at the thought of a showdown with China have so far been disappointed.

And George Bush has also confounded critics on the liberal wing by displaying a much more nuanced approach to China than they expected from a man with minimal previous experience of foreign affairs.

Willing to say sorry

His approach to China appears to be 'tough but flexible'.

Over the spy plane incident he was willing to say sorry to avert a hostage crisis, but he roundly criticised the Chinese for their behaviour as soon as the airmen were safely back on American soil.
Aegis-equipped deatroyer
The Pentagon had long advised against selling Aegis-equipped destroyers to Taiwan

Likewise over Taiwan, it might appear that he backed down in the face of Chinese threats by refusing to release the Aegis equipped destroyers to Taiwan.

But in fact, the Pentagon had always recommended against the sale.

And Taiwan is going to receive a significant shopping list of weapons which even a senator as hawkish as Jesse Helms grudgingly admits is "the most significant defence package for Taiwan in at least the last nine years".

Thus, Taiwan goes away happy and President Bush has managed to avoid antagonising his conservative base.

But most importantly, he has sent a message to Beijing. He does not want to antagonise China but is quite prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure the defence of Taiwan.

It is a delicate balancing act indeed.


Key stories:

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Spy plane row

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See also:

24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
20 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
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