4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM - Oliver North
"Speak softly and carry a big stick." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1901
WASHINGTON, D.C. --We've tried diplomatic recognition, trade and calling them "strategic partners." We've sold them our most sensitive technology and let them steal what they couldn't buy. We've even offered to buy 24 million dollars worth of their black berets and make the entire U.S. Army wear them.
What do we get in return? An intercepted and damaged U.S. Navy EP3-II surveillance aircraft being disassembled piece by piece by communist Chinese intelligence specialists and 24 U.S. military personnel held in "protective custody" by Beijing in flagrant disregard of international law. Add to that 21 other American citizens being held on allegations ranging from petty theft to espionage. One might conclude that the nice folks running the People's Republic of China really don't like us. But that's not what the "Blame America First Crowd" is saying.
The stand-off over the fate of our airmen and aircraft drove defenders of the despotic regime in Beijing into high dudgeon. Not surprisingly, most of them are long-term apologists for the Clinton-Gore administration's fatally flawed policies that led to the PRC's current spate of provocation, repression and aggression. And the blow-dried air-heads of "broadcast journalism" proved willing to give these appeasers plenty of face time.
Former Clinton ambassador to Beijing Jim Sasser counseled the Bush administration to "keep a moderate tone" and avoid "harsh rhetoric." His predecessor, Stapleton Roy, our representative in "The Forbidden City" from 1991 until 1995, urged "patience" in dealing with despots who flout international conventions. Ambassador Marc Ginsburg, a "foreign policy advisor to the Democratic National Committee," suggested that the "cowboys and cold warriors" in the Bush administration were "exacerbating the situation."
The masters of the media joined the chorus of criticism. Even before we knew the location and condition of the 22 Navy personnel, an Air Force officer and a U.S. Marine, one cable-network newsreader insinuated that the incident was a case of "the U.S. being caught with its hand in the cookie jar." Another allegedly experienced reporter noted that U.S. Navy destroyers, dispatched to search for the missing Chinese Air Force pilot who caused the accident, were "threatening."
Others, parroting Beijing's line, have left the impression that U.S. military aircraft flying in international airspace are "provocative." Talking heads billed as "military experts" and "former intelligence specialists" critiqued the commander of the EP-3 for failing to "ditch" the aircraft -- as though its equipment was more valuable than the lives of the crew. And every network rushed to put on the air anxious relatives of detained crewmembers who understandably want an "official U.S. apology" to free their loved ones.
Despite the criticism, the Bush administration has stuck steadfastly to Teddy Roosevelt's admonition regarding words and sticks. Based on what I've learned about this incident, it's the right approach.
My sources tell me that the EP-3 now being pawed over by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Hainan Island was on a mission to collect information on the most advanced warship in the red Chinese navy, a Russian-made Sovremenny-class destroyer and its lethal Sunburn sea-skimming anti-ship missiles -- a major threat to U.S. aircraft carriers. The U.S. surveillance plane was in international airspace when two F-8 fighters launched from Guangdong Province tried to drive it away from the destroyer with a series of close passes -- a dangerous tactic that began last year yet was never divulged by the Clinton administration.
But last Sunday, one of the F-8 pilots came too close, struck the EP-3 and crashed into the South China Sea. According to a source at Hawaii's CINCPAC Headquarters, when the badly damaged U.S. aircraft broadcast an international distress "Mayday" and tried to turn east toward safety, the other F-8 may have opened fire with its machine guns, forcing the EP-3 to land on Hainan Island. While enroute, the crew, in accord with instructions, gutted the innards of the sophisticated reconnaissance plane to limit what PLA intelligence experts could learn when they combed through its wrecked equipment.
In Washington, Beijing's unwillingness to turn over our aircrew and aircraft galvanized a high-level national security review of China policy options that had been stimulated by information provided by Col. Xu Junping -- a senior member of the PLA general staff who recently defected to the U.S. Already alarmed by the intelligence provided by Xu, Bush administration national security experts were further troubled by Beijing's efforts, as the crisis dragged on, to coerce the Japanese government to ban any more such surveillance flights from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. All this prompted the drafting of a short list of "Biejing Bargaining Chips."
Alternatives under discussion are said to include: ending military-to-military exchanges; powering-up Radio Free Asia; challenging Beijing's bid for WTO membership and the 2008 Summer Olympics; re-activating COCOM to review licenses for all technology sales; revoking Permanent Normal Trade Relations and commercial port leases on U.S. territory; encouraging Taiwan's request for WTO membership; canceling a planned presidential visit to Beijing; and booting out the red Chinese scientists who, amazingly enough, still have access to our super-sensitive nuclear labs. Already on the table before the EP-3 incident: selling Taiwan four Aegis Class destroyers and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 ballistic missile defense systems our allies want to buy.
There's another item that ought to be included. Cancel the purchase order for those black berets being made in communist China. After this, no U.S. Army soldier should ever have to wear one.