- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

If anyone was in doubt that the U.S. government regrets that a Chinese fighter pilot managed to get himself killed through reckless flying in the collision with a U.S. EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane, this weekends talk shows left no shadow of uncertainty. After statements by the secretary of state and the president himself last week, the major players on the foreign policy team hit the Sunday shows in force. Secretary Powell went through the motions once more. "We have expressed regrets, weve expressed our sorrow, and we are sorry that a life was lost… . I think its a very proper thing to express our regrets and sorrow over that." This may indeed be a proper and Christian sentiment at the needless loss of a life under normal circumstances, but when the Chinese government itself has rejected "regrets" as insufficient, at what point does this approach become counterproductive, suggesting weakness more than strength? We would appear to be approaching that point fast.
Last Friday, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Quichen, who by the way had just last month enjoyed Washingtons hospitality, rejected the American overtures in a letter addressed to Mr. Powell. "Regrettably," he wrote (seems the R-word is the mot of the moment), "the U.S. statement on this incident so far is unacceptable to the Chinese side, and the Chinese people have found it most dissatisfying." China wants nothing less than an apology and the acceptance of responsibility from the United States, so both Mr. Quichen and President Jiang Zemin have made clear. Neither of which the U.S. government can afford to do in any way, shape or form.
Not only would an acceptance of responsibility be wrong from a reality standpoint according to the facts as they have been presented by American officials. Further concessions would be like more pennies from heaven for the regime in Beijing, which admittedly already hold the trump cards in this game i.e. the American plane and its 24-member crew and know it very well. Internally, the Chinese have been engaged in a propaganda war against the United States to match Chinas military buildup. Imagine the propaganda potential inherent in a U.S. apology. Further imagine how this could be used against Americans in China, residents or citizens, and against Chinese who have contact with the United States either through business, education or political activity. The Chinese could also be counted on to pressure the United States to end surveillance flights, which are essential for the protection of Taiwans integrity.
Mr. Powell, along with National Security Adviser Condoleezza and Vice President Cheney, yesterday rejected any notion of an apology and expressed American steadfastness. "The question of apology is something quite different, because then we are being asked to accept responsibility. And that we have not done, cant do, and therefore wont apologize for that," Mr. Powell said on "Fox News Sunday." Lets keep it that way.

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