"You kissed that woman out behind the hedge!"
"You spied on our country from the air!"
All of us have the option in life to make much, little or in the middle about any and all challenges,
encroachments, insults and affronts that come our way. Let's observe what both China and America
choose to "make of it."
Communist China has the advantage of the dictatorship in its chosen reaction. Every democratic leader
envies the ease with which a dictatorship can take an incident and a) blow it up to look like a reason to go
to war, or b) pretend it never happened. Democracies don't have that luxury. They have free and
frequently mischief-making media that tell as much as they can find, and then some.
There's no way
President Bush could have said, "We don't need this aggravation just now. Tell the media to make it go
away!" China could have.
China is the one you'd suppose would have taken the quiet way out. Surveillance aircraft near its
territory is neither new nor frightening. The loss of one fighter pilot and his plane could be ignored by a
dictatorship as easily as unconsumed eggroll can be left on the table. China could have blacked out all
mention of the collision and its consequences and told the pilot Wang Wei's widow that he had unfortunately been lost in a training accident.
Look at the advantages to China if they'd chosen that velvet non-response. The Olympics would continue
to gravitate toward China, nobody would be inspired to mess up Beijing's advantageous trade deals,
nobody would be inspired to keep China out of the World Trade Organization, nobody would be inspired
to cut the free flow of technology from America to China, which could continue until it crested like the
Mississippi near Davenport, nobody would be inspired to start retelling the elemental truths about Chinese
tyranny and repression, and American anti-Communists would remain like cows staked down tight in a
pasture where they can't eat the wild onions.
Yet China proceeded to make the maximum of it.
It would seem that America, on the other hand, would have wanted to make very much of the incident. An American plane,
after all, having been pestered and collided with by unskilled Chinese interception over international
waters was lucky to land severely damaged, and 24 Americans were held for a deliberately
unnecessarily long time.
Unlike China, the administration had no way to conceal that from the public. We lifelong cold warriors with our anti-Communist brass knuckles retrieved from the middle drawer were
being not only heard and heeded, but actually hailed!
An old, successful president can afford to temporize. A brand new untested president must show strength
and "resolve." Even liberal pundits kept ticking off five, 10, 15, 20 awful things we could do or
quit doing or revoke or withhold from the Chinese if they didn't cave immediately and return our crew
and plane. The Bush administration circumspectly refrained from issuing any specific threat.
Why, then, did each side behave in the opposite way from its expected default mode?
The Chinese knew full well all the great goodies they stood to lose once their belligerency stormed forth.
Why, then, unleash the sleeping (or, at least, tied down) anti-Communist American dogs?
Most optimistic guess: China knows what we don't even dare suspect, even though we saw it all slightly
over a decade ago in the Soviet Union.
Communism, the Communist Party and the thug-junta ruling China today are in serious danger of losing
control, either through erosion of power or outright overthrow.
So Beijing orchestrates a mega-tizzy,
figuring that whatever it might lose from American backlash is preferable to losing everything at the
hands of rebellious Chinese who would rather have the freedom of their brothers on Taiwan than Taiwan
itself. And nothing whips the masses into line better than "foreign devils snooping around our borders and
knocking our hero pilots and their planes out of the sky."
Could it be that the much-spotlighted Chinese "pride" trumped all other emotions and considerations? I
wonder. Would a country that gets as many compliments on its deliberation and cunning as China
sacrifice everything it stands to lose from America for the cathartic grace of a good tantrum? No, the
rosy theory goes. The anti-America pogrom was unleashed because the leaders of China fear they're one
historical hiccup away from losing power.
Too good to be true? Maybe. Those who remember and revere the anti-Communist heroes of Hungary
in 1956, the Czechs of 1968, the Poles of 1980 and the Russians of 1989 like to think Beijing trembles at
the thought of angry mobs ripping down red stars all over China. The Chinese bosses wanted them out
there burning American flags instead. Better to lose everything America gives than to lose everything. So, comrades; go dig out all the Mao-style hatred of America from 1950 and let 'er rip.
That's, indeed, one possible explanation of Beijing's heavy foot to the floorboard.
There is, alas, a less felicitous explanation.
When NBC's Matt Lauer asked President Bush on April 25 what China would eventually have to "pay"
for keeping our crew imprisoned for 11 days, Bush ducked the question in a breathtaking way. He
actually paused and said, "We can work out some good trade deals with China."
There you have it. China fears an anti-Communist uprising. America fears an interruption in trade with
China knows our dirtiest little secret. Sure, our leaders like democracy. But not as much as they and
their supporters and contributors like MONEY. And to the short-sighted and heavy-breathers, a friendly
communist China means money.
An athlete can be too addicted to drugs to play. An actor can be too addicted to drugs to act. And a
democracy can be too addicted to money to stand up for democracy.
Winston Churchill said appeasement of dictators is like throwing the alligator everything he wants in hopes
he'll eat you last.
Cousin Guerney puts it less eloquently.
"Pretending China's nothin' but a good ole' boy is like pouring pricey perfume over a healthy skunk. You
may achieve a certain momentary fragrance, but it's a losing battle."
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