- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

BEIJING From government officials down to ordinary citizens, goodwill toward the United States is giving way to anger, fed by a nationalism that has become a vital if perilous prop to China's communist regime.

"President Bush and the head of U.S. Pacific Command are making stupid, unreasonable comments," said Wang Xiaodong, an influential ultranationalist writer, in one of the more extreme comments heard this week.

"Bush and the head of U.S. Pacific Command should shut their stupid mouths and only open them again to apologize," he said.

It is not only the government and intellectuals like Mr. Wang who are spewing bombast over what is seen here as America's "arrogant" refusal to apologize for a midair collision that sent a Chinese airman to his death and forced 24 Americans to crash-land on China's southern coast.

Chinese Internet sites, which for the first time in decades have given a voice to ordinary Chinese, are filled with invective.

"Hang the U.S. spies and take revenge for Xu Xinhu," said a writer using the e-mail name "SpicyKnife" on the Strong Country Forum of the People's Daily, the Communist Party-controlled newspaper.

Xu Xinhu was a journalist killed in NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in May 1999. The United States maintains that the bombing was an accident.

Chinese have a love-hate relationship with the United States, feeling awe and respect for the wealth and power of a country whose name they translate as "the beautiful country."

But for many Chinese it is also the arrogant superpower that became the heir to the colonial invaders who carved up parts of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a view that comes to the fore in times of conflict between the two countries.

The trend was seen most dramatically in 1999, when angry crowds protested the embassy bombing.

Years of isolation after the communist revolution in 1949 only hardened this sense of outraged nationalism against the foreign powers that were seen to have bullied China since the Opium Wars.

Since the rule of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Chinese leaders have learned to use strident nationalism to deflect attention from many domestic ills to shore up support for the Communist Party.

But party leaders must walk a fine line in letting their people voice such public anger, warned a political commentator in Beijing who requested anonymity. "Nationalism is often whipped up by the government, but it is truly a double-edged sword."

Perhaps understanding the risks, Chinese authorities took care to maintain order outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing yesterday, with police quietly leading away a handful of people who tried to put up protest signs.

In contrast, the authorities provided buses and directions for protesters seeking to express their anger outside the mission after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Mr. Wang, the ultranationalist writer, argued in his diatribe that the U.S. plane had entered Chinese airspace illegally and that Chinese authorities were justified in examining the surveillance aircraft.

"The United States thinks it can put unreasonable, strong pressure on us because China's government is undemocratic. If they continue like this, it will be very difficult to solve this problem," he said.

"Some people in the U.S. want a new Cold War, this time with China. We may be poorer and weaker than the U.S. but we are not afraid. The Chinese people will unite against such a threat. The right wing in the U.S. should be more intelligent and come back to their senses."

Other comments appearing on leading Web sites were similar in tone.

"Stand up Chinese countrymen, and build a Great Wall with our flesh and blood," said one entry on the leading news site, Sina.com.

"America always bullies us," complained another. "And our reaction is too weak. We must do something to make America suffer."

The political commentator in Beijing said the Chinese government's reaction to the forced landing had more to do with the perceptions of these citizens than with international relations.

"The government worries most about domestic issues, basically how to deal with its own people. If the government appears too weak in dealing with this issue, the people will be angry and the government will lose face.

"The U.S. does not understand this and should give the Chinese government some leeway, not push them in a corner. Some military figures would love the government to take a hard line. If the U.S. pushes too hard, the tension can only escalate."

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