If they don't, our foreign policy will suffer incalculable damage, and President Bush's credibility on the world stage will be shot with our allies especially Taiwan.
No one seriously believes this “collision incident” will lead to a military confrontation with China, though in the past the U.S. has indeed gone to war over similar incidents. The sinking of the USS Maine in Cuba provoked the Spanish-American War; the targeting of U.S.-flagged tankers during the Iran-Iraq war prompted President Reagan to direct military action against Teheran; and so on.
But if this situation now evolving isn't handled correctly by the Bush people, it's very possible the U.S. will find itself engaged in combat with China at some point down the road perhaps a short distance at that.
As a reporter who covers military affairs, it's clear to me this “incident” was the culmination of increased aggressiveness on the part of China over the past several months. I would even go so far as to say this midair “bumping” technique performed by a Chinese F-8 fighter and which ultimately caused our EP-3E to be forced down was intentional.
For one thing, we have to realize that China does not value the lives of its people like we do. Also, Chinese military leaders certainly don't afford men and materiel the same value as our military does (OK for the most part). So there is a definite difference in attitude to consider here.
Secondly, China lost its “free ride” in the U.S. when Bill Clinton departed the White House.
Consequently, left to its own designs China's leadership has had to revert back to its former self, so to speak, and re-institute the “bully” mentality that has always governed China.
What we have seen in the past 96 hours is stereotypical Chinese behavior; this is how bullies behave. They “test” their adversaries, and China certainly considers the U.S. an adversary.
If not ignorant beyond belief, China's leaders are at least resolute in that they will not be pushed in a political direction unfamiliar to them. They won't be intimidated (bullies are often too dumb to be intimidated, even in the face of overwhelming power). And they aren't going to be relegated to second-class status, because they feel they have too much at stake (their own political survival; factor Taiwan in here).
While most Americans look upon U.S. surveillance of Chinese military activity as a legitimate national security concern, there are leaders in China who view such activities as legitimate hostile acts. China is wrong, of course, but that's the reality of their thought process on this issue.
The Bush administration, therefore, should approach resolving this issue with these thoughts in mind:
• When bullies push, they should be pushed back or they will push again until you have to fight them.
• A resolute show of force a “push back,” if you will often sends a message to a bully that you're too proud and probably too powerful for him to be pushing you; so he stops shoving and lets you be.
Our “show of force” should hinge on these factors:
• Numerous expert studies have concluded that Taiwan is in desperate need of new, advanced weapons to defend itself. The Bush administration should sell them, China's feelings be damned, and decide to do so publicly and in short order (to show that Bush won't be pushed by a bully).
• China has repeatedly said it is modernizing, building and deploying its military force with a singular intention to “reunify” Taiwan. We are fools to think Beijing will not eventually attempt this, especially if we keep Taiwan weak. The weaker Taiwan remains, the more likely American boys and girls will have to die to defend it someday.
• President Bush should demand that China release our crewmen and our property now not later, when it's convenient for China or implement immediate economic sanctions, to include a total suspension of all trade with China (because they need our money and investment).
• Even if the economic suspension works (and it would), the administration should immediately begin re-deploying U.S. forces out of Europe and into Asia, to demonstrate our “resolve” in defending the region and keeping it from exploding into World War III someday (weakness invites attack).
Beijing's leaders were used to an administration that would roll over for it (Clinton), probably because they had bought and paid for an administration that would roll over on command. The Bush administration is not owned by China Inc., and therefore not subject to the same shall we say “pressures” of the previous administration.
Already Bush's increased hard-line stance against China has caused some concern among Beijing's leaders, who see it as a threat to their political survival. They feel they must lash out, lest they be branded as incompetent by 1.3 billion Chinese citizens and eventually replaced.
Some analysts would argue that it is precisely for this reason that the administration ought to “tread softly” with China, lest we provoke Beijing.
But here's the thing. At the moment, we're stronger than China much stronger so we shouldn't “roll over” for Beijing or anyone else. Also, appeasement a la Neville Chamberlain and pre-World War II Britain never, ever, ever works, especially with a culture (Chinese) that views such appeasement as a sign of weakness.
American politicians are used to compromise because that's how our system works. But uncompromising politicians in China, well, they don't compromise. If we're weak, or if we even appear weak, to them, then they will use the current incident and others in the future to try to extract even more concessions.
If we grant them, as Clinton did, then the next thing we can expect to see will be Chinese missiles, jet fighters and warships shelling Taiwan into oblivion before we can do a thing about it.
Can you imagine what a chilling effect that would have on Japan and South Korea our only other major allies in Asia? My guess is their leaders would beat a path to Beijing to plead for some sort of alliance or truce, to spare their countries similar destruction, current agreements with Washington notwithstanding.
Literally, the future of U.S. engagement and involvement in Asia could hinge on this single incident. We should handle it diplomatically, of course, but with all the firmness and resolve of a superpower that is as yet unrivaled by meddling competitors and bullying communist leaders.
(This article can also be found on WorldNetDaily.)