- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

It is widely expected at this writing that some sort of deal will be consummated shortly effecting the release of the 24 crewmen and women of the U.S. EP-3 knocked out of the sky and seized by Communist China. The pleasure all Americans will feel at seeing these hostages (I use the term advisedly) liberated may well be significantly alloyed, however, by the character of the deal if not by its precise terms.

Of concern is not merely the prospect that the United States might in some fashion accept responsibility for this mishap. The Bush administration has repeatedly and correctly said it has no reason to apologize and will not do so. Yet, it is coming inexorably closer and closer to doing just that.

Since Beijing has rejected U.S. "regrets" as inadequate, Secretary of State Colin Powell now says we are "sorry" a formulation that sounds ominously like an apology and that threatens to obscure the fact that this mishap would never have occurred but for the deliberate and dangerous actions of the People´s Liberation Army (PLA). Its officers are clearly under standing orders to harass, interfere with and otherwise attempt to drive American surveillance aircraft and ships from Beijing´s ever-expanding, self-declared sphere of influence.

More troubling still would be any agreement that would try to sweep this latest episode under the diplomatic rug by implicitly affirming the erroneous line that this purposeful provocation was actually "an accident." This would be the practical upshot of a deal that created a standing negotiating forum to define read, circumscribe how U.S. airmen and sailors will henceforth conduct themselves so as to avoid further "accidents." The effect would be to offer Beijing what amounts to a veto over American operations in whatever "zone" the PRC claims as its own.

At the very latest, upon the release of our hostages, the Bush administration should abandon the course followed by its predecessors a course characterized by an abject determination to enhance the legitimacy of the odious communist regime in Beijing, irrespective of its brutality at home and its increasingly aggressive behavior abroad.

Normal relations cannot and must not be maintained with a government that is as abnormal as that of the PRC. In the years since 1972, Americans have been encouraged to avert their collective gaze from its true character and conduct. We have increasingly ignored the systematic abuse of human rights, even though it is absurd to think the communist Chinese would care more about other nations´ citizens or treat them better than they do their own.

We have not allowed the PRC´s aggressive pursuit of offensive military arms, its forcible occupation of foreign territory in the Spratly Islands or its transfer of weapons of mass destruction to our potential adversaries around the world to trouble us, let alone to interfere with our bilateral relations. The fact that China has the world´s most active ICBM modernization program involving weapons only needed to attack the United States is seemingly a matter of no consequence to that nation´s many "friends" in this country.

Instead, China´s apologists/boosters encourage Americans to believe that, so long as we trade with the communist regime and its entities, these myriad problems are irritants to be managed, rather than indicators of fundamental and irreconcilable differences not between our two peoples but between the United States and the odious government of China.

Such shortsightedness would be troublesome even if our balance of payments with the PRC were not running a deficit estimated to be roughly $80 billion this year. Countries do go to war with their trading partners England and Nazi Germany were each others´ largest markets before World War II and we ignore at our peril China´s repeated description of the U.S. as its "main enemy" and declarations that war between the two is "inevitable."

In the place of further appeasement of the Chinese government, the United States must adopt a determined, long-term strategy toward it akin to that employed by President Ronald Reagan to destroy another monstrous communist regime that of the Soviet Union. This requires, among other things, calling such criminal enterprises what they are: evil empires. Once we are clear about whom we are dealing with, the rest of the steps aimed at countering China´s regional ambitions, growing economic power and international trouble-making become relatively straightforward, if still very challenging, propositions.

Putting into place such a strategy will not be easy after the better part of a decade of American appeasement of the Chinese communists and their political and economic inroads internationally. It will require patience, courage, tenacity and, above all, a commitment as President Bush put it at the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan to "stand by those nations moving toward freedom stand up to those nations who deny freedom and threaten neighbors or our vital interests."

The good news is that today we can include among those who are seeking freedom millions and millions among the Chinese people. Indeed, the threat this aspiration represents to their government is one of the reasons the communist regime is engaged in ever more provocative behavior abroad. By so doing, it appeals to nationalistic impulses and provides a pretext for intensified repression of those who don´t hew to the party line.

By exposing such social engineering for what it is and by helping to empower the people of China, however, the United States has a chance of promoting a regime change that is both in their interest and ours and the best chance of avoiding a conflict that would be hugely detrimental to the citizens of both countries.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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