- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

They say in the United States image is everything. But to the Chinese regime, image is survival. Why else would Beijing require the United States to disassemble its crippled EP-3 spy plane and load it onto a Russian plane a rather impractical solution?
The U.S. plane was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island on April 1 after it collided mid-air with a Chinese jet fighter. In wake of the accident, Beijing held the plane's crew until it received an apology for the incident from the United States. And although the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, Adm. Joseph Prueher, said the United States was "very sorry for entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance," the White House never assumed blame or apologized.
No matter. These were words Beijing could seize on and repackage to the Chinese people. And repackage they did. On April 11, the Beijhing Morning carried the banner headline: "The United States finally apologizes." And the Xinhua news agency commentary took a decidedly triumphant tone, celebrating how the Chinese people had united in "opposing American hegemony and protecting national sovereignty and dignity. This shows China upholds peace and does not fear intimidation by big powers."
To Beijing, instilling a sense of power and terror in the population is crucial to its survival. For this reason, the collision between the U.S. and Chinese planes, in which the Chinese pilot lost his life, wasn't a tragedy. It was an opportunity.
Beijing said that allowing the United States to fly back its reconnaissance plane would be a national humiliation. So it forced U.S. technicians to complete the laborious task of taking the plane apart. As circumstances would have it, a Russian cargo plane will arrive on U.S. soil today with the many pieces of the EP-3, and the Navy announced yesterday that the spy plane will fly again.
Surely, repairing the plane and flying it out would have been the most rational solution. But illegitimate regimes celebrate irrationality. So to Beijing, this all makes sense.

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