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Jewish World Review April 13, 2001 / 20 Nissan, 5761

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

'Very sorry' --
IT'S back to the dictionary for the first time since the Clinton years in order to define words in the American statement to China which was the key to the release of the 24 American detainees, or hostages, depending on one's perspective.

Among the meanings of "sorrow'' is this: "Sorrow implies a sense of loss or a sense of guilt or remorse.''

"Regret,'' another word that has appeared in most U.S. statements since the April 1 emergency landing of the American surveillance plane in China, is defined as "sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one's control or power to repair.'' No wonder the Chinese accepted "very sorry'' over "regret.''

Part of this is the importance Asian culture places on a demonstration of contrition. But the larger part is that the communist government managed to extract the maximum propaganda and humiliation benefits from the face-off with the United States. It retains bragging rights in Asia that, once again, a large rat scared the world's biggest elephant.

President Bush was cool in the midst of pressure to "do something.'' Members of Congress, who have been out of town during the incident and unable to posture as much as they like to, and some commentators were urging a stronger response to China's actions.

One lesson for the United States is that while the Cold War with the Soviet Union may be over, communism in China and elsewhere (Moldova in Eastern Europe recently elected a communist as president) survives. Communism still regards human beings as dispensable and disposable if they interfere with the authority and policies of the ruling elite. Communism sees individual liberty and religious freedom as the biggest threats of all and represses such yearnings with considerable state power.

U.S. and Chinese representatives will conduct a postmortem on the incident at an April 18 meeting. U.S. officials have said they have no intention of suspending surveillance flights over international waters. They should not, but rules of engagement, which are understood by most nations, ought to be reiterated to the Chinese. China deserves no special consideration or extra territorial claims of sovereignty.

Another lesson for the United States is that trade alone is not going to convert China to our values. China remains a nation that wishes America ill and doesn't mind putting its military might where its mouth is.

In their book, "The Coming Conflict With China'' (Alfred Knopf, 1997), Richard Bernstein, former New York Times bureau chief in Beijing, and Ross Munro, former Time magazine bureau chief in Hong Kong, write, "The important thing here is that Beijing's rulers will risk war with America not because it is in their country's interest but because it is in the interest of the governing clique...China during the past decade or so has set goals for itself that are directly contrary to American interests, the most important of those goals being to replace the United States as the preeminent power in Asia, to reduce American influence, to prevent Japan and the United States from creating a kind of 'contain China' front, and to extend its power into the South China and East China Seas so that it controls the region's essential sea-lanes.''

In pulling America's chain, China is mindful of a principle articulated by Mao Tse-tung, who said, "The mind of the enemy and the will of his leaders is a target of far more importance than the bodies of his troops.''

China probably thinks it has diagnosed a softness in America's leaders, starting with Bill Clinton. It's important for the Bush administration to now act in specific and observable ways that will send a different message to Beijing. One way would be to immediately resume reconnaissance flights, and this time, as we did in a nearly five-decade dance with the Soviet Union, protect the pilots with a show of air and sea power. That will project a more powerful image than diplomatic language about sorrow and regret.

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