- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

President Bush has a wealth of diplomatic and economic levers to wield against China if the communist nation refuses to heed Mr. Bush's call yesterday for the release of U.S. service members and their downed plane.
Analysts of Sino-U.S. relations said Mr. Bush's options range from recalling the U.S. ambassador to severing trade with China and encouraging Taiwan to halt investment in the Chinese mainland.
But most experts expressed optimism that relations between the U.S. and China will not deteriorate to that point. They predicted that if China makes good on its promise to grant access to the crew members by today, tensions will cease to escalate.
"The political settlement that we want should be forthcoming in less than 48 hours," said retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll, vice president of Center for Defense Information. "I just think by that time the Chinese will have their act together."
But if they don't, Mr. Bush can up the ante by taking an even tougher stance on China.
"After a reasonable period of time, not to exceed 72 hours, the United States has no choice but to take the offensive and recall our ambassador, or threaten to do so," Adm. Carroll said. "The Chinese ambassador should be summoned and apprised of the consequences of failure to respond.
"And then, in 72 hours, we go public and we start twisting the diplomatic and economic screws," he said.
But James Lilley, former U.S. ambassador to China, said Chinese failure to comply with Mr. Bush's demands could create support for the sale of advanced U.S. weapons to Taiwan.
Mr. Bush is expected to decide by the end of the month about what to approve on the list of weapons that Taipei has requested.
"If, in fact, they turn nasty and continue to hold the pilots, then it seems to me, their cause is set back," Mr. Lilley told The Washington Times. "So it seems to me it serves their interest to get the guys out of there and get the plane out of there as soon as possible."
The president can apply additional diplomatic pressures behind the scenes, ask the United Nations to condemn China's recalcitrance, or even threaten economic sanctions.
"Here's our real lever: Suspend all trade with China," Adm. Carroll said. "China's got a huge trade surplus with us that they just absolutely have to have.
"They also have active trade with Taiwan and investment from Taiwan. All of that could be taken away if they do not come to their senses and resolve this aircraft and crew situation."
China's detention of U.S. service members is the first big foreign policy test of the fledgling Bush administration. The president is trying to walk a fine line between assertiveness and aggression while avoiding the outbreak of a new Cold War.
"On both sides, we need to keep this in proportion," said Dr. Gerrit W. Gong, Asia director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"There are a lot of other issues coming up between us and China, and we need to deal with this one on its merits, in a narrow way, frankly because we want to get our people and our plane back.
"We don't want it to escalate and become a big international standoff," he added. "Because if we do that on our side, it's possible the Chinese will do it on their side and it will become very, very complicated. And I don't think we need to use an incident like this to restart the Cold War."
Mr. Lilley agreed and warned that the Chinese might be tempted to exploit the accident by condemning the U.S. for spying on China.
"They can make you look bad," he said. "They've got the plane, they've got the claims of spying and violations of their sovereignty. They're holding the cards, and they've got you on the defensive. It would be very logical for them to exploit that."
In China, public sentiment against the U.S. is already high. Still stinging from America's accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Chinese citizens are being told Sunday's incident occurred after the U.S. plane strayed into Chinese airspace. The U.S. disputes that claim.
Mr. Lilley emphasized the president's most pressing priority is to "get the crew out right away, because that's the hottest issue right now in terms of the American public. If they're held there, the atmosphere will deteriorate here very fast."
Although the Bush administration has made clear that Chinese officials should not inspect the American spy plane, most analysts of Sino-U.S. relations fear such an examination has already occurred.
"They obviously want to see what they can find out about it while it's there," Dr. Gong said. "And it's in our interest to try to limit that and so there's going to be a little bit of 'to-ing and fro-ing' on this issue."

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