Right Wanted Might in China Case: Kemp Nationally-Syndicated Column

Right Wanted Might in China Case: Kemp Nationally-Syndicated Column

April 16, 2001

Distributed by Copley News Service

Distributed by Copley News Service

April 16, 2001


Last Saturday, along with the rest of America, I watched the very moving homecoming ceremony for the American flyers detained by China on Hainan Island for 11 days. The Monday-morning quarterbacking and the ideological recriminations began the day before, with the harshest criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the affair coming from individuals who are reflexively anti-China and think President George W. Bush wasn't tough enough in dealing with the Chinese.


Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan of The Weekly Standard, for example, said that ''China won and we lost.'' But America, as the sole superpower on Earth, cannot act as if the Cold War is still on. It's over, we won, and let's not make new enemies of old ones.


To those critics on both the far left and the far right, I say, cool it. We got our brave aviators back without yielding to Chinese propaganda or provocation. Sure, we said we were very sorry for the death of the Chinese pilot. Being very sorry a young man died is how civilized people react to situations like this, even if, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, it was the pilot's hubris and recklessness that got him killed. Expressing sorrow at the loss of human life is not a weakness. To the contrary, it's a sign of humanity and confidence in our strength and moral purpose. In fact, Bush was successful in convincing the Chinese to back off their demands.


We never admitted to doing anything wrong or even imprudent. We didn't suggest that we would stop conducting reconnaissance and surveillance, and we did not foreclose any options for dealing with China in the future, right down to and possibly including reprisals for their behavior in this incident, although I would strongly advise against it. So why is the anti-China crowd so upset?


It appears they do not believe the Golden Rule should apply to our conduct of foreign affairs. In their minds, we are entitled to intercept any unauthorized foreign aircraft penetrating a 200-mile perimeter of our shores, and we are justified in being outraged and taking retaliatory actions against those suspected of blowing up our embassies. Yet they reject the right of other nations, especially the People's Republic of China, to do and feel the same when we fly near their shores with sophisticated eavesdropping equipment or drop bombs on their embassy in Belgrade.


Why the double standard? I can only conclude that many of my conservative friends believe China is such a threat to our national security and economic well-being that we are warranted in isolating them and treating them differently from the way we expect to be treated.


This view of China not only is morally wrong, it is factually inaccurate and politically and militarily dangerous. Plus, the anti-China lobby errs fundamentally in placing Taiwan at the epicenter of our relationship with the People's Republic of China. By doing so, the anti-China lobby would surrender our ability to define and defend our own national interests independently of Taiwan and in the process would allow a third party to determine our fate. I can't imagine a more ill-conceived strategy, more destined to lead to military conflict over Taiwan, a conflict we would most assuredly ''win,'' but at what cost, to us, to Taiwan and our strategic position in the western Pacific?


China believes Taiwan is a part of China, and the United States acknowledges there is but one China, albeit with two systems. At the same time, Beijing sees that the United States is totally committed to defending Taiwan against a military annexation into the People's Republic. This, too, is an unalterable fact that China must understand.


The matter is not complicated, and as Bush just demonstrated, he has the temperament and style to convey this simple fact of life to the Chinese without causing China to lose face. The United States will not, under any circumstances, tolerate China's use of military force against Taiwan, period. Now, let's move on to develop a modus vivendi between China and the West.


Bush, like former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush before him, premises our global strategy on deterrence, i.e., peace through strength. With their bluster and bravado, Kagan and Kristol and their fellow travelers protest too much and lead the Chinese to wonder if we don't really question our own strength and determination.


The Bible says he who wrestles with us strengthens us. As it turns out, the Hainan diplomatic wrestling match was actually quite useful because it allowed the new administration to develop a much better understanding of China and China's current leaders. And it strengthened the Bush-Cheney-Powell-Rice diplomacy.


China, too, can take a lesson away from Hainan. It behaved badly, and bad behavior has consequences. For example, it would be perfectly proper for us to discuss the matter of China's unacceptable behavior during the Hainan confrontation as part of the process whereby China gains full entry into the World Trade Organization, not in order to humiliate them but rather to make sure Beijing fully understands the norms and expectations that must govern its full participation in the world trading community.


Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.



Copyright © 2001 Copley News Service