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Jewish World Review April 5, 2001 / 12 Nissan, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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Consumer Reports

Chinese over-water torture -- MAYBE we have received, at long last, a national wake-up call on China. Lo these many years, as one administration after another blithely sold or gave the People's Republic our best military technology, a few of us have been asking our leaders "do you really want to arm China?" We asked because we took seriously the public policy of the Beijing regime to prepare to fight and win a war against the United States. So far, the answer has always been "Sure. Why not?"

This must be the starting point for any serious strategy. If China is preparing to go into war against us, we had better be sure we are so strong that they won't chance it. We want a supremely powerful United States military, and a weak, poorly equipped People's Liberation Army. For the past ten years, our leaders have acted as if they wanted the reverse, which is one reason the Chinese are acting so brazenly right now. Starting with Bush the Elder, and accelerating with disgraceful disregard for our national interest during the recent unpleasantness, we've given China most everything they needed to build a first-class fighting force, and we've been extremely solicitous of their tender feelings, adopting their language on Taiwan, bowing and scraping to their wondrous culture, pretending they were becoming more "democratic" as they crushed any sign of freedom outside the marketplace, and welcoming them into the "world community" as symbolized by the World Trade Organization.

All of this was based on a theory rooted in pidgin Marxism, and embraced by people who should have known better. The theory states that democracy is linked to wealth, and thus as a people becomes richer, it automatically becomes more democratic and freedom loving. The historical facts do not support the theory (Imperial Rome was rich; Pericles's Athens was poor, just for starters. And, more recently, when we gave credits to the Soviet Union, it only made them stronger, not more freedom-loving), but the theory lived on. If you leaf through the literature on China, you will find no end of self-proclaimed deep thinkers in academia, government and business chanting this siren mantra. And yet...

And yet China has become more repressive as it has become wealthier. And yet their political vision remains unchanged, a vision of a proud, powerful, dominating nation imposing its will on its neighbors, its region, and its distant American enemy. And yet we have not come to grips with this terrible reality, and we have not recognized the terrible blunder we have committed, and continue to commit, by giving Beijing the wherewithal to realize their ominous vision, a vision dramatically clarified by their act of piracy in international air space against an unarmed aircraft.

What else is to be learned from the events of the past few days? The good news, paradoxically, is that the Chinese Air Force isn't ready for the big time. That fighter pilot was certainly not ordered to sacrifice himself. He was supposed to intimidate our spy plane, not bring it down. He made a fatal error. Those who know how the world really works see that the Chinese goofed, and they are now scrambling to save face. That is why they want us to apologize, when it is they who should ask for forgiveness.

The good news is simultaneously bad, because it will be very hard to get them to cooperate. They will fear that any gesture of rational goodwill on their part will be interpreted as a confession of error. It's not going to be easy to get our sailors back (indeed, we may even see a replay of Khomeini's greatest hit: a full-blown hostage crisis), and if we ever see that plane again, it's likely to be in small pieces. The Chinese may have blundered, but they are very happy to have had the good luck of laying their eager hands on some top-notch American surveillance gear. They will certainly exploit it (who wouldn't?).

As we have just been reminded, we should be very concerned about the kind of technology that reaches China. The administration's reaction shows that the American people understand this. Various military spokesmen have quickly put out soothing statements to convince us that the crew undoubtedly destroyed anything of real value before the Chinese laid their hands on the aircraft (this before we could possibly know it), which shows that we are in fact very concerned about was has been lost to them. If we're concerned about that technology, we should also be concerned about all the other things we've been selling to the Chinese. It follows that the administration should immediately suspend all licenses for the sale of military and dual-use technology to China, pending a serious strategic review, which the president should order right now. He should tell Secretary Rumsfeld to study the military consequences of our foolish sales to China. He must know, quickly and clearly, what kind of military-under a worst-case scenario — China could put in the field. That review would tell us what we need to guarantee a decisive victory in an armed conflict with China, and it would identify what China needs to complete its own military program. We could then build the army we need, and withhold from the Chinese the technology they want to do us in.

Meanwhile, what do we do if the Chinese dig in their heels and demand our humiliation in order to hide their shameful behavior? We have the usual diplomatic tools in the usual fora: U.N. denunciations, recall of diplomats, perhaps the expulsion of some of the young Chinese studying in our universities and laboratories (both helping our research and stealing our secrets), seizure of assets, embargoes and so forth, all designed to brand Beijing as a pariah regime. Some are now arguing that we should respond to the Chinese provocation by fulfilling Taiwan's military wish list, but we should do that in any case, and we should be at pains not to link that proper decision to current events (even though the Chinese have probably clinched the deal through their ham-handed behavior. Americans don't like nasty countries telling us how to behave). Imaginative policy makers will undoubtedly come up with other actions, and I'm all for them. If anyone is going to be punished for this, it must be the Chinese.

It will be said that such measures would increase the likelihood of war, but the opposite is true. A wise Roman strategist put it most neatly: If you wish peace, prepare for war. The conflict the Chinese are preparing is not inevitable; even a national mission can be revised if circumstances warrant it. Of late, we have served the Chinese an attractive bounty of tasty carrots. It behooves us to combine our largesse with a suitably menacing set of sticks. Speedily built and wisely brandished, American power may yet compel them to adopt an orderly and reasonable decorum. But it will be neither quick nor easy. A decade of folly is not easily remedied, and we are now called to account. Let's hope we have heard that call.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Ledeen