Before analyzing our relations with China, tribute must be paid to two men who let their actions speak louder than words.
The first is Shane Osborn, the sort of young American who sustains the faith of us middle-aged folks. Is he out of central casting, or what? Modest, religious, patriotic and brave, he really does deserve the hero label that Americans have too promiscuously slapped on everyone who endures hardships these days. To manage to keep his head in that cockpit -- upside down, with klaxons sounding, and wind roaring through the holes, and few controls responding while the plane plunged out of control toward the sea -- that is rare courage and skill.
To cement his hero stature, Osborn turned aside praise, giving God and/or luck the credit. So long as America continues to turn out young people of this caliber, we cannot be too severely off track.
Nearly everyone gives the president high marks for his handling of the matter, but perhaps his finest moment came in the aftermath of success. There is little doubt that if a previous president had been in office, he would have high-tailed it out to Whidbey Island to "welcome" the returning air crew home. In so doing, he would have made himself, and not the hero/pilot Shane Osborn and the other Navy airmen, the story. President Bush had the good judgment and reserve to permit the servicemen (and women) their moment in the sun. He'll have them to the White House at a later time, which is fine.
What does this episode teach us about relations with China?
For those who believed that since China has become a major exporter, she has become a normal nation, this serves as a wake-up call. China remains among the least free nations on earth, and is controlled by a cruel and ruthless bunch who are not above jailing people who attempt to form an independent political party (the China Democratic Party), torturing priests and ministers who attempt to spread Christianity, and ripping babies out of the wombs of women who have gotten pregnant without permission.
In just the past several weeks, the Chinese government has imprisoned four ethnic Chinese with ties to America. Gao Zhan, a sociology professor from American University, had traveled to China with her husband and 5-year-old son. She was charged with spying, and her child, who was born in America, was taken from her. Gao is a permanent resident of the United States and her son, obviously, is a citizen.
Does all of this mean that we are or should be engaged in a Cold War with China?
No. We engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union because, until 1989, the question of which system was superior -- free institutions and free markets, or central control of everything (the communist model) -- had not been settled. With the Soviet Union in the vanguard (as they used to say), the totalitarian idea was on the march, and our security was tied to that of free nations the world over.
But that argument was settled, once and forever, when the Berlin Wall was hacked to pieces by East and West Germans together, and when the Hammer and Sickle was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. Are there redoubts of communism still hanging on like Japanese soldiers hidden in the Philippine jungle years after the surrender? Sure. One is 90 miles off our coast. Another is China.
But China has recognized that a free market, or a semblance thereof, is absolutely essential to its development. In the short term, while her government remains communist, this is cause for caution. The Chinese economy, in the service of a tyrannical and expansionist regime, can certainly be dangerous.
We must maintain vigilance, both military and psychological. But over time, it seems unlikely that China will be able to resist the tug of freedom. Part of what brought down the old Soviet empire was the fax machine and the computer, which permitted millions of ordinary people to see not just how much better life was in the West, but also how much their leadership had been lying to them. Unless a communist can completely control what his people know, he cannot hold power forever.
With patience and firmness, we can wait out the Chinese communists.