Members of Congress voiced relief on Wednesday at the resolution of the U.S.-PRC showdown, but several warned that the long-term impact remained unknown and trust between the two nations must be restored.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised President George W. Bush for helping to win the release of the 24 American crew members in his first foreign policy crisis.
Many said, however, that Beijing may still pay a price — on matters ranging from trade and mainland China’s Olympic bid to possible American arms sales to Taiwan — for having held the crew as well as the U.S. spy plane, which has yet to be released.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said Beijing’s behavior had seriously damaged U.S.-PRC relations and had heightened doubts about Beijing’s commitment to a respectful relationship.
“These doubts have been raised by China’s own inexcusable conduct, its reprehensible detention of our air crew as it dishonestly attempted to shift blame for the midair collision to the United States.”
“The primary responsibility for repairing our relationship rests, as does responsibility for this incident, squarely with Beijing,” McCain said.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said, “We have many important issues facing us, including challenges involving nonproliferation, human rights, Taiwan and mainland China accession into the (World Trade Organization).”
“Progress on this agenda depends on rebuilding the trust that was damaged over the last 11 days,” Daschle said.
Generally, long-time congressional proponents of U.S.-PRC trade said they saw no lasting damage to relations, while leading critics of Beijing forecast possible problems ahead.
The assistant Republican leader of the Senate, Don Nickles, who canceled a trade trip to mainland China last week because of the stalemate, said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the outcome.
“It was in the interests of both countries to resolve this issue quickly before it did long-term damage,” the Oklahoman said.
But Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, said, “The manner in which the Chinese government has handled this incident reinforces my concerns about China’s lack of adherence to the rule of law.”
Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who introduced legislation last week to revoke Beijing’s trade privileges in the U.S. market, urged Americans to beware.
“The events of the past week and a half should serve as a reminder to all Americans and government officials that we must not become complacent in our dealing with China, which now more than ever has proven that they are not only a strategic competitor but also an aggressor nation,” Tancredo said.
Dozens of lawmakers joined the measure to revoke the decision by Congress seven months ago to grant permanent normal trade relations to the communist giant, but a senior aide to the Republican leadership said he did not expect that to happen.
“U.S-China trade helps us as much as it helps them,” the aide said.”You don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face on this.”
Even so, Congress could end up approving a number of nonbinding resolutions, including one pending against mainland China’s bid for the 2008 Olympics because of Beijing’s human rights record.
Calls have also mounted in Congress for Bush to approve high-tech arms sales to Taiwan. Mainland China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has opposed such sales.
“I think it is too early to tell what, if anything, Congress will do,” another top aide in the Republican leadership said.
“A big factor will now be how China acts in the aftermath of all this,” including the return of the crippled Navy plane, the aide said.