The official noted that "most of the congressional delegations had decided
not to go before consulting us. In all cases we made sure to say it was
their decision, but when asked directly for advice we said it was probably
not a good time to go." This official added that the advice hinged on the
fact that diplomatic negotiations over the EP-3 surveillance plane and its
24 person crew remained unresolved.
In at least one case, Secretary of State Colin Powell personally advised a
lawmaker leading a delegation against going to China, the official said.
This appears to represent a significant shift of the administration's
position. On April 5, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told
reporters, "The White House is not objecting to any trips that lawmakers
have to China."
To date, separate congressional delegations led by Sens. Phil Gramm,
R-Texas, Don Nichols, R-Okla., Richard Shelby R-Ala., and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., all canceled trips to China. In addition a conference arranged by
Aspen Institute for 20 U.S. lawmakers in China has been scuttled.
"It was Senator Shelby's thought that there would be nothing to discuss
with Beijing when they were holding 24 American service men and service
women," his spokeswoman Andrea Andrews told UPI.
"This was a low-profile delegation," said the Aspen Institute's spokesman,
James Spiegelman. "Had this not had happened during the course of the spy
plane incident this would have gone on with very little fanfare."
The canceled trips, however, may be only the tip of the iceberg in freezing
U.S. China relations. After a bitter congressional fight over Permanent
Normal Trade Relations with China last year, some U.S. lawmakers that
supported the bill are changing their minds. Because Beijing is not likely
to gain full membership in the World Trade Organization in time, Congress
may well have another bite at the China trade apple this year.
Last year PNTR passed the House by 237 votes to 197, so if only 20 votes
flip this year the House could vote to reverse that position. The House
International Relations Committee chairman, Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who
supported PNTR last year, changed his position last week in light of the spy
At the White House Monday, President Bush said: "Every day that goes by increases the
potential that our relations with China could be damaged. And our hope is
that this matter gets resolved quickly.
"We're working. We're working behind the scenes. We've got
every diplomatic channel open. We're in discussions with the Chinese. It is
now time for our troops to come home so that our relationship does not
Beijing stepped up the rhetoric Monday when an army newspaper
called for an end to all surveillance flights off its coast. The Liberation Army
Daily's tough rhetoric fueled suspicion that China's military was
moving for a rigid stance when dealing with the United States in this
diplomatic standoff and that it could be disrupting a possible agreement
between the two countries. The newspaper is published by the military and
only senior commanders oversee the content.
"China has the right to fully and thoroughly investigate this entire
incident, including the American military aircraft and the people in charge
of it," the newspaper said. "The U.S. government should immediately stop
all military surveillance activities off the Chinese coast."
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