- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao is in America this week for meetings with President Bush. In the coming year, Mr. Hu is expected to replace aging President Jiang Zemin as the leader of America's most powerful adversary. The meetings this week will set the tone for our relationship with China in the next few years. Mr. Bush needs to ensure that tone is based on respect both in granting ours for China, and requiring theirs for America and our ally, Taiwan.

Mr. Jiang, Mr. Hu's mentor, is reportedly fascinated by the September 11 attacks and has watched the videotape of the hijacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center over and over. He would do so for some perverse pleasure, but also to learn from them, and to judge America's response in the context of the enormity of the attacks. Mr. Hu and the Chinese government are judging Mr. Bush, and using their verdict to continue their own challenges to American interests in many corners of the world.

The Chinese were the first to challenge Mr. Bush. A year ago, when a Chinese fighter pilot rammed a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, the Navy plane and its crew were taken into Chinese custody and held illegally while the aircraft's secret equipment was disassembled and carted off. That one ended in a draw when our people were released, and the Chinese kept the stolen secrets.

Another test of Mr. Bush's mettle came on the question of arms sales to Taiwan. The Taiwanese wanted to buy American destroyers equipped with the Aegis phased-array radar, which can be converted to a missile defense role. In response, Mr. Jiang's statements were nearly hysterical, warning that China would consider the sale of Aegis systems to Taiwan to be essentially an act of war. Mr. Bush decided to deny the Taiwanese the Aegis ships, and instead sell them diesel-electric submarines, which are an offensive weapon and in the context of the Chinese threat, a non sequitur. But Mr. Bush reinforced our commitment to Taiwan by having the Defense Department resume some military cooperation with Taiwan. Since then, it has become clear that none of the nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that build those submarines will sell them to Taiwan, and we can't build them at anything like a reasonable price. This week's meetings come at the time when the Aegis sale to Taiwan needs to be reconsidered.

As reported by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, China is again increasing its missile forces threatening Taiwan. The Chinese may think that, with American forces engaged in a global war, we have neither the time nor the resources to deal with the threat to Taiwan. Mr. Bush should use these meetings to disabuse Mr. Hu of that idea.

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