- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

When it comes to dealing with the growing menace of communist China, the present crisis is a crucial test for President George Bush. His handling of Beijing's illegal and highly provocative seizure of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane will show just how determined he is to deal forcefully with this aggressor.

The plane was in international air space on Sunday when it was confronted by two Chinese F-8 fighters. One of the F-8s clipped it, possibly to force a landing.

The plane and its 24 crew members are being held on the island of Hainan. Rest assured, the Chinese military is mining this intelligence bonanza for all it's worth.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin maintains the bulky, slow-flying Navy plane veered into the jet — a claim only a professional liar could make with a straight face.

The incident wasn't the result of some overzealous fighter jocks exceeding orders. Adm. Dennis Blair, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, says the Chinese have become increasingly aggressive in buzzing our military aircraft. “It is not normal practice to play bumper cars in the air,” Blair comments.

On March 24, a Chinese warship faced off with an unarmed American surveillance ship, the USS Bowditch, in international waters. The Chinese ship made aggressive moves toward the Bowditch, including targeting the vessel with its gunfire control radar. The Bowditch was forced to retreat.

Can it be a coincidence that downing the spy plane comes on the heels of Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen's mission to Washington last month (a failure from Beijing's perspective), when Bush spoke bluntly about our commitment to Taiwan's security shaping our decision on the sale of advanced Aegis destroyers to the island?

After Qian's departure, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the president he intends to redirect U.S. strategic planning toward mainland China as the emerging threat of the 21st century.

Whether or not China is responding to the foregoing, it apparently intends to use the plane, its crew or both as bargaining chips. Washington must declare unequivocally that it will offer no concessions for their safe return.

As well as a test for Bush, the crisis is another reflection of his predecessor's failure. Bill Clinton spent eight years coddling these vipers — lobbying for trade concessions, allowing officers of the People's Liberation Army to roam our military bases, approving the sale of dual-use technology and treating Taiwan as a pariah.

In return, the regime looted our nuclear laboratories, corrupted our elections with illegal donations, arrested Chinese-American scholars working on the mainland, deployed missiles opposite Taiwan and regularly threatened to invade the island if it didn't agree to merge with the communist empire.

Defense analysts disclose that attempts to intimidate American pilots have been going on for better than a year, but the Clinton administration hushed it up.

How should we respond to the latest provocation? China expert Bill Triplett (author of “Red Dragon Rising”) told me our first move should be to immediately recall the U.S. ambassador to China, retired Adm. Joseph Prueher — not just as a sign of intense displeasure, but to further repudiate Clinton's policy.

Prueher, who's scheduled to leave in a month, is a constructive-engagement cheerleader.

The ambassador says China's piracy is “hard for us to understand and hard for me to explain.” Given his faith in the illusion of a U.S.-China strategic partnership, both statements are correct. The New York Times notes that during his tenure, Prueher “earned the respect of many in the Chinese military.” The Marxists always appreciate a useful idiot.

While he's at it, Bush should also sack Blair. Despite his current tough talk, the admiral has been another appeaser.

In a 1999 meeting with members of Congress, the Pacific fleet commander reportedly called Taiwan “the turd in the punchbowl” of Sino-American relations. The remark epitomized Clinton's attitude — If Taiwan is threatened, it's the island's fault for the provocation of its existence.

Talk is cheap. Beijing wants to see if Bush will blink in this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. It hopes it can win concessions to end a crisis it precipitated. Instead, Bush should offer an escalation of realism.

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