- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

Chinas detention of the 24 U.S. crewmembers and their aircraft was President Bushs first major foreign policy test. No question, the president passed. But, this was also was an important test for Chinas rulers. They failed.
The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) believes that it deserves respect and dignity. But, its repeated failure to observe the rule of law is a serious obstacle to Chinas acceptance into the club of great powers.
Had the PRC immediately chosen a lawful course of action when the U.S. crew was forced down in Chinese territory, China might now be receiving praise, not denunciation. At stake for the PRC is its bid for entry into the World Trade Organization, Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) and the possibility for Beijing to host the Olympics. But, the detention of our crew and the looting of our aircraft have led even Chinas friends to question that governments intentions.
U.S. hawks see China as an emerging threat. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that China will liberalize in response to trade, and military and cultural exchanges. Their view is that treating the PRC as a threat would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Chinese governments handling of this incident makes it increasingly difficult for the United States to accommodate to the latter view. It is hard to reconcile international business as usual with a nation that holds our citizens captive.
Further the detention now of visiting academics who reside in the United States, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, the persecution of religious and political dissidents, and the ongoing military threats against Taiwan, speak volumes.
Such lawless behavior cannot credibly be explained away by apologists who blame the United States for inciting the regime in Beijing. While eventually China may emerge as a more open and democratic society, for now, and the near-term, the facts on the ground tell a different story. Reality should rule in the formulation of U.S.China policy. Blind optimism on our side is not the engine for change in China.
Unabashedly, the Chinese regime continues to demonstrate that it cannot be trusted to abide by internationally agreed standards of conduct, nor by its agreements. Dangerously so, because China sells nuclear-related technology to rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, contributing to a new arms race. All the while, the benefits the PRC receives from trade with the United States fuel its military build up.
Our economic ties with China overwhelmingly determine, not just our trade relations, but also our foreign and defense policy. Chinas leaders know this all too well. Every year we protest various aspects of their behavior, and threaten their Most Favored Nation status, yet at the end of the day, the all important U.S. - China trade relationship remains in tact.
Once again, the United States can now threaten to rescind MFN/Permanent Normal Trade Relations. But if this is in effect an empty threat we would do well to implement a more realistic strategy outlining a range of real penalties we are fully willing to enforce. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan should not be our only leverage, although not to be ruled out. Without penalties, there appear to be no incentives for the PRC either to refrain from its belligerent stance toward Taiwan, or to improve its respect for individual rights and to live up to its promises in the areas of nonproliferation and trade.
To American minds, the PRCs recent hostile action defies logic, as it is in that regimes own best interests to maintain good U.S. - Sino relations.
Cultural differences and perceptions, as well as internal domestic pressures may help account for the PRCs actions.
But enough of apologists trying to psychoanalyze the Chinese governments sensibilities. Whatever the underlying motivation, it is time for Chinas leaders to take the great leap forward into the 21st century, and to join the international community of law-abiding nations.

Tina S. Silverman served at the Pentagon during the Reagon Administration.

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