- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

The confrontation caused by the aircraft collision and the detention by China of the U.S. crew and aircraft following an emergency landing provides an opportunity to reflect on prevalent myths about contemporary China.

• Myth: China´s impressive export-led economic growth of 400 percent since 1979, its opening of the command economy and integration into world trade would lead it to be more internationally cooperative and peaceful. In fact, despite a cumulative trade surplus since 1990 of more than $650 billion and foreign direct investment of $320 billion, China has remained aggressive in pursuing its territorial claims against 11 nearby countries, has continued selling technology for weapons of mass destruction to dangerous regimes (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) and has been modernizing its nuclear missile, air and naval forces targeted at the U.S. and Japanese military in the Pacific region.

• Myth: China acts according to the "Five Principals of Peaceful Coexistence," which it has proclaimed since the 1950s, including adherence to international law and non-intervention in other states. In fact, China attacked the U.S.-led United Nations forces in Korea and attacked India in 1962, seizing thousands of square miles of disputed territory it continues to hold. In the era of economic modernization, China attacked Vietnam in 1979 and again in 1988. And during the 1990s, China seized disputed islands by force and, with no basis in international law, claimed the entire South China Sea and all its islands as its "sovereign territory," leading to its view that the U.S. plane was in its territory.

• Myth: The growth of China´s economy will inevitably lead toward greater political pluralism and in time to political democracy. In fact, this has not occurred and there are many modern examples of dictatorships, including very aggressive tyrannies, that have mixed state-private sector economies and engage in international trade. The Chinese communist elite decided at Tiananmen Square in 1989 that it would never permit political pluralism to develop, fearing that would result in the end of their rule. The U.S. Department of State annual reports on human rights make clear that repression of independent political, religious, ethnic and labor groups in China has become worse year by year during the 1990s. Presently there are 6 million to 8 million persons in forced labor camps and about 300,000 held without trial, as was a 5-year-old American child in February and as his mother, a U.S. resident, continues to be held today.

• Myth: Trade with China is important for the United States. In fact, China-U.S. trade is vitally important for China and of very little economic importance to the United States. China has had favorable access to the U.S. market since 1980, has sold 35 percent of its exports in the U.S., and the massive trade surplus it has gained from the U.S. ($450 billion since 1990, $83 billion in the year 2000 alone) has been the money tree fueling China´s growth and military modernization. In contrast, China´s restrictions on imports and the limits on purchasing power in a country with a per capita GNP of $900 have resulted in less than 2 percent of U.S. exports going to China ( remaining at about $14 billion annually during the 1990s).

While many corporations favor trade with China because they use its low-cost labor force (coerced by the dictatorship) to make products for sale in the U.S., few corporations have made a profit inside China from their investments and many have been required to share their best technology with Chinese organizations. In the next years, China may well dramatically undersell many of these companies and could reduce their future earnings worldwide.

With these facts in mind, it is important that the United States makes it clear to China and the world that: our aircraft was in international airspace; China may not unilaterally claim the South China Sea and its islands as its territory or extend its territorial domain from 12 to 200 miles beyond its coastline; the crew and aircraft must be returned at once.

Last year Chinese naval and survey ships were at the 12-mile limit as they surrounded the main islands of Japan for weeks (most likely vectoring in on military facilities to aim China´s ballistic missiles). The aggressive conduct of China against our ships and planes in international air and seas and this episode should be met with a reduction in economic benefits from the U.S. to include: the termination of all sales of Chinese stocks and financial instruments (these are not transparent) in U.S. markets; second, a consumer boycott of Chinese made products and support for the legislation submitted by Reps. Duncan Hunter, Dana Rohrabacher, Jack Kingston, Marcy Kaptur, Tom Tancredo to rescind to permanent Normal Trade Relations and instead establish conditions for realistic rather than unconditional engagement with China.

This event and the demand for an apology reveal to the U.S. the coercive China many Asian states have experienced. It is time to reinvigorate all the U.S. security alliances in Asia, to move toward a defensive alliance with democratic India, to shift economic opportunities from China to friendly Asian countries, to sell Taiwan the needed defensive weapons and to deploy regional and national missile defenses.

Constantine C. Menges, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, served as special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan. His forthcoming book is "The United States, Russia and China: Geopolitics in the New Century."

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