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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK

World: Americas

US press: Don't vilify China

The espionage report was released amid a media frenzy

The US press has called for close scrutiny of key administration figures for their handling of the alleged China nuclear spying scandal.

But the press warned Congress and President Bill Clinton not to overreact and alienate the world's most populous nation.

[ image:  ]
The New York Times said although security leaks began in the 1970s, "the Clinton administration, in particular has a great deal of explaining to do about its anaemic response when it first learned of possible Chinese espionage".

The Times said the performance of National Security Advisor Sandy Berger should be scrutinised in particular.

"Republican calls for Mr Berger's resignation feel premature, but his fitness is in question and must be carefully weighed in the days ahead," the newspaper wrote.

Janet Reno under fire

The Times and the Boston Globe also called for an explanation from Attorney General Janet Reno on why she rejected FBI requests for wire-tapping authority.

"This is but the latest in a series of law-enforcement lapses or political blunders that would have led to Ms Reno's removal in any recent administration other than this one," the Times wrote.

The Globe added: "Attorney General Janet Reno, who has displayed stunning lapses in judgement in the past, needs to explain why she rejected FBI requests for wire-tapping authority in the investigations."

Praise for bipartisanship

The criticism follows the publication of the damning Cox report which says China has been stealing US nuclear secrets for several decades.

[ image: Chris Cox: High praise]
Chris Cox: High praise
The document was released in an environment of highly-charged partisanship in the wake of the impeachment process.

But the press praised the head of the committee, Representative Christopher Cox, in his efforts to keep the report above the partisan fray.

The fact Mr Cox was able to get five Republicans and four Democrats to co-operate less than a year before America's presidential campaign was ''no minor achievement", noted one Los Angeles Times commentator.

Delicate relationship

The press hoped the bipartisan effort would prevent rash foreign policy decisions that could damage relations with China.

"While Congress' sense of betrayal by China might be justified, the call for retribution is not," the LA Times wrote.

Instead of vilifying China, the US should identify the important leaks and "plug the holes", it said.

"Intensifying China bashing and threatening economic retaliation would not fix the problem but certainly would widen the US-China breach," the West Coast newspaper added.

Balance of power

The Washington Post also focused on the difficulty in managing US-China relations.

"Finding a balance between openness and caution will never be easy," the newspaper wrote.

The loss of nuclear secrets to the Chinese will not only affect the balance of power between the US and China, but also the regional balance of power in Asia.

"It does not follow that the United States should treat China as an enemy," the newspaper wrote. "But neither does it make sense for the United States to open its strategic pockets and allow China to help itself."

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