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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Silence from US allies
President George W Bush
Bush left to go it alone as allies stay aloof
By the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Barnaby Mason

West European governments are watching with keen interest and some anxiety to see how George W Bush handles his first big foreign policy test.

They wonder how he is shaping up, look for any signs of nerves or impatience - and worry that inexperience or the fear of being seen as weak may lead him into an over-aggressive reaction.

Some European politicians undoubtedly believe that Bill Clinton's gift for soothing hurt feelings might have played better with the prickly Chinese.

Officials in Britain, America's closest ally in Europe, stress that the situation is extremely difficult and sensitive and that it is up to the two parties involved to resolve it.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Only Britain's Robin Cook has made a supporting move so far
It is sensible to keep quiet, one official said; people are deliberately not adding to the rhetoric, since finding a form of words to resolve the crisis will depend on Washington and Beijing not getting too entrenched in their positions.

Almost the only specific comment came from the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who said that it was not realistic for China to expect an apology.

General coolness

While there may be good reasons for the near silence, it is also true that there is not much enthusiasm among the allies of the United States in Europe or Asia for the foreign policy that President Bush seems to be embarking on.

That is the context in which reaction to this confrontation should be seen.

Besides portraying China as a rival rather than a partner, Mr Bush has downgraded the importance of Russia and shown he is in no hurry to meet President Vladimir Putin.

He is sceptical about continuing to engage with North Korea, and is determined to pursue ambitious programmes of anti-missile defence which the Chinese fear and many European governments think are destabilising.

Washington's allies want the crisis resolved, as quickly and quietly as possible.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Spy plane row stokes Chinese passions
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: China crisis
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China welcomes US 'regret'
30 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests another US academic
23 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Key Chinese army officer defects
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