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Programme highlights Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Bush: a new US politics?
President Bush met Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen in March
Have Sino-American relations cooled now?

The Chinese authorities insisted again this morning that they were treating the crew of a downed American spy plane according to international law.

So far, American diplomats are still being refused access to the crew of 24 men and women, whose plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island after colliding with a Chinese fighter at the weekend.

An F-8 was involved in the incident with a US spy plane
Chinese F-8 fighters

President George W Bush has made no secret of his irritation at the way the Beijing Government is handling the incident.

And the US Ambassador to China said today that he believed Chinese officials had crawled over the plane.

Test of Presidency?

This is beginning to look like the first real foreign policy test of his presidency: and following Mr Bush's rejection of the Kyoto treaty on the environment, it seems to reinforce the sense of a man with a strong and distinctive personal agenda - far removed from the Clinton approach.

Downing Street said this morning that it hoped the spy-plane confrontation could be resolved quickly.

The Prime Minister's spokesman added that Mr Blair had formed a strong relationship with Mr Bush and hoped to find constructive solutions to issues like Kyoto.

What are the President's priorities?

At his inauguration in January, George Bush presumably chose carefully the words he hoped would characterise his approach when he said that he wanted "to bring the values of history to the care of our times".

But what would that mean in practice? The first evidence that struck a chord in this country was an early action over Iraq in which British planes participated.

President Bush requesting access to US airmen in China
Bush demanded access on Monday

And then that decision to reverse Bill Clinton's support for the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gases: "We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people that live in America, that's my priority."

At home, meanwhile, Mr Bush proceeded more quickly and decisively than many had expected to introduce a ten-year programme of substantial tax cuts: "The people of America have been overcharged, and on their behalf I'm here asking for a refund".

Firm words

When it came to China there was a bumpy start even before the latest war of words.

There was the tit-for-tat expulsion of the "spying" diplomats and the first meeting between President Bush and China's senior foreign minister descended into an exchange of differences over Taiwan, human rights and missile defence.


The first step should be immediate access by our embassy personnel to our crew members. I am troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response to our request for this access

President Bush

Yesterday there was no indication that President Bush would soften that stance. He demanded access to the airman from the US plane, now thought to be on Hainan island.

And the rhetoric has been equally firm over Russia, which the Bush team accused of "active proliferation" of nuclear missile technology, and over North Korea after what had under Clinton been an increasingly cordial relationship.

Bush is no moderate

The World at One asked Tom Reid, London bureau chief for the Washington Post, how he viewed the new Bush administration's first ten weeks in office.

He thought that expectations that George W Bush would be a moderate conservative like his father, former President Bush, had been misplaced.

He emphasised that the President's foreign policy advisors were anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese and he would be influenced by that.

But he felt that much common ground could be found with Europe on policies such as missile defence.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary
Britain should be the candid friend of the US

Also on the World at One, James Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State in President Clinton's administration, told us the spy plane dispute does not necessarily signal a harder line from Washington towards China.

The relationship between the two superpowers could remain amicable - but only if heads remain cool.

If there were complications over access to the grounded US plane and if other issues such as Taiwan were pulled in, there could be a serious deterioration of relations.

Britain's relationship with Bush

The former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was puzzled about why President Bush felt the need to provide strong unilateral leadership in the US in peacetime.

He stressed the danger of talking up the Chinese situation and creating a self-fulfilling impression of China as the enemy of the US.

But Mr Rifkind felt that the special relationship between the UK and the US was not threatened by President Bush's apparent hawkish attitude - he said that Britain's role was that of "candid friend" - it should not be afraid to criticise America over issues such as pollution.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tom Reid of the Washington Post
Bush is more conservative than many people expected
Former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin
"Mostly what we've seen are rhetorical shifts in the new administration"
Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind
"There's no doubt that the style of the Bush administration is much tougher and harder"
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