- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

The U.S. crew having returned home from China, a crucial question is what next for U.S.-China relations? "Retribution" as Sen. Robert Torecelli said over the week-end? Expanded arms sales to Taiwan, as Taiwanese President Chen Suai Bien requested? Permanent Normal Trade Relations vetoed, as Rep. Henry Hyde raised?
The right answer depends on understanding the U.S. strategic objectives for China and the Asia-Pacific, and the instruments we have to achieve those objectives.
As a starting point, there should be no doubt that China was in the wrong in the intelligence plane incident. The U.S. aircraft was in international airspace. The Chinese fighter came too close as this pilot had done before. It was dangerous, it was deliberate and it should be stopped.
There should equally be no doubt that the Chinese militarys involvement in the incident made it harder to resolve. The Chinese military views the U.S. military including our reconnaissance flights as a problem. Specifically, the Chinese military expects that, in coming years, it could be called upon to implement an attack against Taiwan, but knows also the U.S. military can stop that effort. As one of the three key decision-making groups in China the other two being the Chinese Communist Party and what might be called the economic reformers, the military had little initial incentive to resolve the problem. However, negative views about the United States are not limited to the Chinese military. Chinese senior officials regularly warn against U.S. "hegemonism" and "gunboat diplomacy."
But does this plain set of difficulties resolve how we should act?
China is difficult but it presents opportunities as well as challenges. Change has been dramatic over the past 20 years and China will be as much changed by 2020, as it has changed since 1980, and will present a dramatically different face to the world.
There is an engine for change in China. That engine is the internal Chinese focus on economic growth and reform, the highest priority for the Chinese leadership. That focus has had three important ramifications:
One, a Chinese desire for stability in the region to encourage the trade and investment necessary to Chinas growth.
Two, a Chinese focus on the rule of law (though largely on the economic, not human rights side) which has resulted in less party control and greater freedom in non-political arenas.
Three, a development of a multiplicity of economic power centers, which has generated a more open governmental process (again, mainly in the non-political arena which is less party dominated).
It is in the U.S. interest to continue this process of change. The clear implication of this conclusion is that maintaining Permanent Normal Trade Relations is not an act of altruism nor solely of economic interest. It is a long-term strategic decision essential to bringing about the type of China we seek to have.
U.S. policy has to be more than support for Permanent Normal Trade Relations. It is crucial to cause China to abide by international norms and one element is to keep China from using force to achieve its aims. The reconnaissance flights should start again promptly. Longer-term, the overall U.S. military presence in the region should be maintained.
The United States should also make clear that we will stand up for our friends and allies in the region and, in the circumstances, a robust arms package for Taiwan is appropriate. Taiwans greatest needs are actually training, development of joint war-fighting operations, communications, and a variety of other measures that would allow for more effective use of their existing force. On the hardware side, sale of advanced air-to-air missiles to protect against Chinese aircraft, and systems for countering naval superiority, such as diesel submarines, P-3 aircraft, and KIDD destroyers, ought also to be considered.
The Chinese have opposed at almost hysteric levels the sale of Aegis destroyers which have radars that, in theory, could be used as part of a missile defense for Taiwan. "In theory" because right now and for the next several years at a minimum no missile defense system exists which could use the Aegis radars. Moreover, the most probable near-term system would be land-based. Since the KIDDs can do the sea control mission and are available sooner, there is an absence of real benefit from the Aegis sale. Given the geopolitical downside, there is little reason to go forward now.
Economics, U.S. presence, and support of allies and friends are key elements of long-term US. policy, but there are two additional important factors. First, as difficult as they are, the United States should not shrink from directly taking on the task of changing the Chinese mindset including the military. This requires direct contact through continuation of the military to military contacts that were started four years ago. The maritime military forum in which the reconnaissance flights will be discussed was established because of the military to military programs.
Finally, in the past several years, the United States has directly encouraged greater use of multilateral activities in Asia for security purposes. Some of those programs are among us and our allies as in the Trilateral Defense Cooperation among the United States, Japan and Korea. Some have also included China, which should continue to be invited as part of the effort to cause the Chinese to respect international norms.
In the end, the U.S. reaction toward China as a result of the airplane incident should not be retribution. It should be something even more desirable for the United States and even more dangerous for the Chinese Community Party. Our policy should be that China should change.


Franklin D. Kramer was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 1996 to 2001.

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