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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Anxious times for China's neighbours
American and Chinese officials are meeting in Beijing
The US and China are still sizing each other up
By Damian Grammaticas in Hong Kong

The American sply plane crew may be home and the immediate crisis may be over, but the spy plane incident has raised many questions for Asia.

Most important of all is the possibility that the affair will spell the start of turbulent times between the United States - the dominant power in the region - and China, its aspiring one.

Missing pilot Wang Wei
Pilot Wang Wei: Remembered as "Guardian of the Sea and Air"

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the French Centre for Research on China, believes the US is the only outside, neutral power able to keep the Chinese under control and that the current talks represent a small but important concession to China.

"We shouldn't over-exaggerate this concession, but for the Chinese, in bumping into a reconnaissance aeroplane, they have managed to force the US side to discuss the issue. So maybe that's seen in China as a minor victory," he said.

Avoiding disagreement

China will undoubtedly call for an end to America's surveillance flights off its coasts.

They are one of a number of areas which could now lead Washington and Beijing into deeper disagreements, particularly over continued US support for and arms sales to Taiwan, and the Bush administration's support for a national missile defence programme.

But some, including Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at Hong Kong's City University, believe both sides will be working to preserve their relationship.

"I think both governments, and especially the Chinese Government, are quite keen to maintain a cordial Sino-American relationship," he says.

For China there is much at stake. It needs America's investments and access to America's markets.


In the South China Sea there are a number of claimants who are very worried about China's intentions and have a vested interest in keeping the US around

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, academic

But the relationship is also under strain form the arms sale to Taiwan.

Wu Jau-Shieh, of Taiwan's Institute of International Affairs, says China's hard line in the spy plane affair may now produce a backlash.

"My hunch is that the Congress branch will probably pressure the executive branch harder on the kind of weapons system to sell Taiwan that will work counter to China's interests," he said.

Focus on the 'near abroad'

China's actions have also reinforced the concerns in many Asian capitals about China's intentions in the region.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan says the interception of the US surveillance aeroplane was clearly intended to push the United States away from the Chinese coasts and so better to control the area in China's 'near abroad', the area just outside its territorial waters and airspace.

He says: "In the South China Sea there are a number of claimants who are very worried about China's intentions and have a vested interest in keeping the US around."

Washington has made it clear it has no intention of stopping its spying.

But much else about the new relationship between America and China is yet to be decided and, until it is, Asia will face uncertain times.


Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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INTERACTIVE GUIDE

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Apr 01 | Americas
16 Apr 01 | Americas
15 Apr 01 | Americas
13 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
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