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Jewish World Review April 20, 2001 / 27 Nissan, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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Handling China -- THE culture of this city being what it is, our talks with China about our reconnaissance plane and our future surveillance activities in international waters and airspace are dealt with as if it were a sporting event. Who is tough, and who is weak? Who is gaining diplomatic advantage and who is giving ground? If the newsies had their way, the talks would be chaired by Tim Russert or Ted Koppel, and we'd have an instant poll to declare the winner.

But these talks are part of an enormously important process, in which the survival of the United States may very well be at stake, and we must hope that the new administration appreciates their significance. For the first time, the Chinese have confronted us directly, and we must finally deal with China as a discrete problem. During the Cold War, we used China as a counterweight to the Soviet Empire, and as a vantage point from which to survey Soviet military developments. The Chinese exploited this position as best they could, but the relationship was defined by our mutual concern about Soviet power, not by the basic issues between us.

Not that we have not dealt with divisive and contentious issues before, but these have concerned other countries and peoples: Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, and India, among others. The present talks are not about other countries; they are about our relationship itself.

We are in a good position. Unlike the Clintons, our new leaders owe nothing to Beijing. W.'s campaign was not underwritten with Chinese money, and, unlike the Clintons, W. has no ideological reflex that leads him to sympathize with the Chinese tyrants. He can see China plain, with its commercial allure and its military and political menace, and he should be able to see that China is enormously vulnerable to our most potent weapons, which are the unparalleled success of American enterprise, and the irresistible appeal of the free society that created it.

The chatterers are busily adding up the points in the current debate over our surveillance flights, and have lost sight of the fundamental, inescapable conflict that led to the current situation: the conflict between freedom and slavery. The Chinese tyrants hate us, and they are right to hate us, for our very existence threatens their legitimacy. Do not think that the Chinese are upset by our actions, which are no different from their own (they routinely carry out surveillance flights throughout the region); they are upset because they know we are the inspiration of those who demand greater political freedom within China itself. We have forgotten that the brave Chinese democrats built a statue of liberty in Tiananmen Square at the heart of Beijing; the rulers of the People's Republic carry that wound within them. We listen attentively to Chinese sermons on the historic importance of Taiwan to the Chinese peoples, forgetting that Taiwan was part of Chinese dominion for only a few years out of millennia. It is not national pride that drives Beijing to demand the annexation of Taiwan; it is the rulers' fear that the mainland peoples will insist that they freely choose their own leaders, as the Taiwanese do.

In order to keep their own peoples in line, the Chinese tyrants must constantly demonstrate that the American dream is an illusion, and that Chinese power is the dominant force in the field. To that end, they arbitrarily arrest American scholars on Chinese soil, and defy us to extend the realm of freedom into the Inner Kingdom. In like manner, they denounce those few American scholars who criticize the People's Republic, and they refuse to grant them visas. Indeed, they even deny tourist visas to their children, lest the message be misunderstood.

The best way to deal with such people is to constantly remind them of their vulnerability, to encourage them to change their ways, and to denounce them when they refuse. We should take every opportunity to demand the abolition of the vast Chinese gulag of political prisoners and slave labor. We should demand the release of the Americans they have arrested. We should remind them that they are in violation of the United Nations Charter when they suppress the free practice of religion.

W. should tell his negotiators to use the talks to expand the agenda. If the Chinese insist that they will only discuss the question of surveillance, we should reply that we do not feel the same need to carefully watch free peoples, and that such problems are best solved by addressing the root cause of our prudent watchfulness.

And, because we do live inside the Beltway, the White House should remind the chatterers that we are the only truly revolutionary society on earth, and that China's vaunted sensitivity is no different from the "paranoia" of the other tyrannies of the last century, all of whom were driven to challenge America because they feared our revolution would eventually lead to their own destruction.

As indeed it did.

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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03/14/00: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/00: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/00: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/00: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/00: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/00: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/00: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/00: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen