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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 00:44 GMT 01:44 UK
Analysis: Powell mends bridges in Asia
Powell on magazine cover on eve of visit
Powell was well received on his trip
By Washington correspondent Jon Leyne

If politics has become little more than a branch of showbusiness, then Colin Powell had better not run for president.

His impression of a lovelorn cowboy, in an after dinner show in Vietnam on Thursday, did not exactly win widespread critical acclaim.

But he could be forgiven for bursting into song at the end of a five-nation tour of Asia that has increased his already substantial standing on the world stage.

The new US Secretary of State has the charisma and the way with words that the new American president so obviously lacks.

Dignity in Vietnam

There was his dignified visit on Friday to a memorial in Vietnam for the Americans and Vietnamese killed looking for the remains of American servicemen still missing from the war.

Colin Powell at a memorial for Americans and Vietnamese killed in a search mission
Vietnam brought back memories for Mr Powell
There were no flowery speeches, not even any music.

But he was asked about his own feelings returning to Vietnam 32 years after serving as a young US soldier.

He described how he specially went into the cockpit of his plane for the landing in Hanoi:

"Just to see the paddies, beautiful green, and then to hear the voice of the air traffic controller in the tower greeting our pilot and giving him instructions," Mr Powell said.

"To hear that voice and accent again - it brought back lots of memories of years ago."

Peacemaker

On his first trip to East Asia as Secretary of State, Mr Powell, former soldier, has returned as peacemaker to a region that has always been fraught with difficulty for the United States.

EP-3 spy plane
The spy plane row damaged relations
He focused on the relationship with China, trying to repair the deep damage caused by the spy plane crisis in April, and some clumsy words by George W Bush during the election campaign.

The Chinese were in a receptive mood, releasing three US-based academics held on spying charges, days before the Secretary of State arrived.

And after a day of top level meetings in Beijing there were warm words all round.

"We have so many things that are in common, and we have areas of disagreement," Mr Powell pointed out.

"Let's talk about all of them for the purpose of keeping the relationship moving forward. The region and the world and both nations need the United States and China to cooperate and move foward."

'Common interest'

"We have seen our common interest," said the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi. "Our cooperation will be conducive to the stability and development of the region, and will be beneficial to both of us."

Chinese-born American scholar Gao Zhan
China freed a scholar days before Powell's visit
Mr Powell was particularly struck by China's new wealth - he seems to hold firmly the American belief in the civilising power of prosperity, particularly on the Chinese leadership.

"They understand the importance of economics and trade," he said after leaving Beijing, "And the centrepiece of that economic world is the United States."

Speaking to reporters on his plane, Mr Powell said he had stopped describing China as a "strategic competitor" - the term coined by George W Bush during the American election campaign.

Too complex

Mr Powell said the relationship between the US and China was so complex it was not wise to focus on a single phrase.

So the Secretary of State has gently pulled back from a phrase the Chinese saw as particularly inflammatory.

Colin Powell with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
Talks with Beijing were cordial
After all the fine words, the sceptics have already pointed out that little of substance emerged from these important talks.

In the longer term there are still many potential sources of conflict - Taiwan is top of the list, missile defence not far behind.

The hardliners in the Bush administration will have listened to some of Mr Powell's comments with dismay or even disbelief.

But for the moment, Colin Powell appears to have the upper hand in Washington.

Perhaps it is too early to chalk this trip up as a major diplomatic triumph - But Colin Powell certainly seems to have something to sing about.


Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

AUDIO VIDEO

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT
See also:

29 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
27 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
27 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
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