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Jewish World Review April 6, 2001/ 13 Nissan 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Putting a little face on the China 'crisis' -- THE Chinese plane incident is familiar to anyone with a taste for the cuisine of Cathay. Beijing merely demands that President Bush offer regrets from Column A and apologies from Column B. (Steamed or fried rice extra.)

It's enough to give the president indigestion, but he's staying the sensible course, blowing neither too hot nor too cold, vowing to work "all diplomatic channels" and repeating at every appropriate opening that it's past time for the Chinese government to let his people go.

Signs that the "crisis," if crisis it is, is easing became evident yesterday as the manufactured hysteria in Beijing began to subside.

Fortunately, the crisis is so far mostly one of rhetoric, and the Bush administration is careful not to call the hostages "hostages." The president and the secretary of state are even careful to use the word "regret" every hour on the hour and occasionally on the half hour.

"We are working all diplomatic channels," Mr. Bush told a luncheon yesterday of the nation's editors, assembled in Washington for the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The president "regrets" that "a Chinese pilot is missing" and "regrets" that his plane was lost. He "regrets" that the Chinese cowboy flew into the reconnaissance plane, too, and maybe even "regrets" that the Szechuan shredded chicken he had for dinner last week didn't have more chicken and fewer carrots in it. Most of all he "regrets" that the hostages we're not supposed to call "hostages" are still locked up in what we are not to describe as "captivity".

The diplomatic dance is about the ancient Asian concept of "face," which Americans regard with curiosity and puzzlement, but which is very important to the Chinese autocrats torn by feelings of inferiority and buoyed by fierce pride. The "crisis" is no doubt aggravated by Chinese puzzlement over why Mr. Bush is so stingy with offering "face" when his predecessor offered so much of it. Bill Clinton, who stood at his famous bridge to the 20th century lusting to apologize to everybody with a grievance real or imagined, was eager to share pain. George W., the man from Midland who shows no appetite at all for the therapeutic culture, is not. The Chinese generals, who are believed to be pushing the hard line over the plane incident, may for their part be frustrated that the heavy investment they made in America, through their hard-money contributions to the Clinton campaigns, has gone all for naught.

"Looked at from the West," a Western diplomat in Beijing tells London's Daily Telegraph, "China is taking a really weird approach to this incident, making totally unrealistic demands for apologies and an end to spy flights. But in China that is often the way you get out of an embarrassing conundrum. The stronger party must give the wronged party 'face'. The bully has to admit he is to blame."

This will be difficult for the president now. If he offers the word "apology," after the emphatic assurances that he wouldn't, he will lose considerable "face" though we would never call it that with his own constituency. Polls and other surveys show that upward of 80 percent of Americans are saying "no way" to the idea of apologizing to the Chinese for their having attempted to knock an American plane out of the sky.

When the incident is finally resolved the Chinese may wind up with less than they thought they would. The crew of the reconnaissance plane, so the Pentagon hinted yesterday, may have destroyed much of the valuable stuff aboard, and the search for the Chinese pilot or his body, despite an unusually ambitious effort, has apparently failed. The Chinese could have staged an elaborate martyr's tribute, but as anybody in show business could tell them it's hard to do much without a body, dead or alive.

Sad as his death may be, the Chinese pilot seemed to be asking for trouble. He had challenged the reconnaissance plane in the past, U.S. intelligence sources said yesterday, and this time his reach "simply exceeded his grasp."

The pilot may have been trying to create a turbulent wake, hoping to make it difficult for the American pilot to retain control of the reconnaissance plane. He even flew close enough to flash his e-mail address to the Americans. E-mail address or not, reaching the pilot now is probably a very long long-distance call. No wonder the Chinese are so unhappy.

George W.'s "regrets," echoed by Colin Powell, may be enough face to satisfy Beijing. The Chinese government, if it is ready to resolve the crisis and get back to selling cheap underwear and electronics to the United States, can splash "regrets" across its state-controlled front pages and television screens, characterizing "regrets" in whatever way they like.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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03/21/01: Why can't senators be nice to Mom?
03/19/01: Knocking hard heads at the Pentagon
03/14/01: Second thoughts on the faith initiative
03/12/01: Getting punch drunk on disappointment
03/07/01: The dazzling triumph of Saddam Hussein
03/05/01: How can a real gent tell the lady no?
02/28/01: Who won that war? Best not to look
02/26/01: Bonnie & Clod, gifts who keep on giving
02/21/01: It's Hot Springs week in downtown Harlem
02/13/01: Some of our riots seem to be missing
02/07/01: When a hate crime is something to love
02/07/01: Lifting a few spoons, cutting a few taxes
02/02/01: A few small surprises and a large lesson
01/31/01: Serving fried crow in the press mess
01/26/01: The gathering storm over Jesse Jackson
01/23/01: A graceless getaway, a graceful beginning
01/19/01: Once more to wave the bloody shirt
01/16/01: Bring on the lions, the clowns are ready
01/12/01: The dastardly plot to restore slavery
01/10/01: Mr. Lott's generosity to the Dems
01/05/01: Looking to the past for a bad example
01/03/01: A modest proposal for Arkansas folk
12/19/00: The reflexive sneer at George W. Bush
12/15/00: Taking inspiration from John Birch
12/12/00: It's time to raise high Florida's standards
12/08/00: A President Bush, and about time, too
12/05/00: Here come the judge --- and he's got a hook
11/28/00: Cry no tears for Al, lawyers are the losers
11/21/00: The useful loathing of America's sons
11/17/00: When this is all over, we spray for lawyers
11/14/00: Something murky in the twilight zone

11/10/00: Something sinister in Palm Beach

11/07/00: Low days in the life of the ruptured duck

11/06/00: A little race baiting in the final hours

11/01/00: Creator gets a hard time on the hustings

10/27/00: The sorcerer rides to rescue his apprentice

10/25/00: The founding father with a story to tell

10/23/00: A lonely passion for religious rights

10/16/00: Spending blood on the folly of fools

10/11/00: A big night for the embellisher-in-chief

10/06/00: AlGore's black problem

10/04/00: In headlong pursuit of the bigot vote

10/02/00: A modest proposal for Rick Lazio

09/27/00: When folks at home give up on a scamp

09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes

09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply

09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'

09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye

09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset

09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap

08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal

08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost

08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash

08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme

08/07/00: After insulin shock, an authentic rouser

08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy

07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers

07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself

07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?

07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?

07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit

07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink

07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season

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07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate

06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!

06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve

06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman

06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat

06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation

06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'

06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch

06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak

05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper

05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks

05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes

05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example

05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans

05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales

05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man

05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat

05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary

04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood

04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks

04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go

04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno

04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)

04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts

03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table

03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day

03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult

03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology

03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain

03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden