China is endangering its interests : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

China is endangering its interests By GREG SHERIDAN 06apr01 WHAT is most amazing, and in its way most disquieting, about the US spy plane crisis is how poorly the Chinese have handled it. They literally have everything to lose here and nothing to gain, but they are going close to painting themselves into an inescapable corner from which their most important national interests will be severely damaged.

International law is entirely on the US side in this dispute. The US plane was operating in international airspace. It's not even really fair to call it a spy plane. It's not covert intelligence gathering. The plane appears in Jane's Defence journals as an open surveillance plane.

Needless to say many nations, including Australia and China, conduct similar electronic surveillance. The Chinese, because of the limitations of their air force, mostly use disguised fishing and commercial vessels packed with listening devices. The Japanese have been particularly annoyed during the past 12 months with the number of Chinese incursions into their waters on intelligence-gathering missions.

In this case the Chinese fighters were apparently attempting fairly standard harassment manoeuvres, for which there are well established international procedures, against the US plane. In one of these the fighter is meant to fly up the right hand side of the EP-3 and turn across it. The Chinese pilot cut his turn too tight and collided with the US plane.

Under international law, once the US plane was so damaged it had an absolute right to land at the nearest runway. Sovereign immunity of a plane derives from a nation giving it clearance to land, but in a genuine aeronautical emergency the assumption of sovereign immunity applies.

Comparison to US examination of a Soviet aircraft flown by a defector to Japan in the 1970s is false. The Soviet plane was not forced to land by an emergency, therefore its violation of Japanese airspace was illegal. The Americans thus were not obliged under international law not to examine the plane before they handed it back. But I have no doubt at all that if a Chinese surveillance plane were forced to land, say, at Hawaii, it would be allowed to leave again unmolested.

Given that the US has no case at all to answer in terms of international law, the crisis management and the restraint of the Bush administration has been commendable. The Bush foreign policy team is the most experienced and professional any new president has ever assembled. None of this crisis is attributable to it.

But we are very close to this crisis spinning altogether out of hand. The Chinese, I would think, have about one or two days to return the American service personnel or they will permanently damage their relationship with the US. The stakes for China are enormous. Think about the one-third of its exports that go to the US, the investment it gets from the US, the need midyear for its trade status to be voted on again in the US Congress, its desire to join the World Trade Organisation and to host the Olympics.

Not yet, but soon, if this crisis is not resolved the US will be forced to take tough action. That is a deeply sobering thought.

Chinese behaviour so far has been so counterproductive to Beijing's interests that you have to conclude this is a colossal mess that they have handled astonishingly badly, rather than a planned change in strategic direction.

By making demands the Americans cannot possibly meet -- such as calling for an apology, or for the US never to fly surveillance flights anywhere near the Chinese coast -- Beijing makes ultimate resolution of this impasse all the more difficult.

Nonetheless, yesterday there were some encouraging signs. US Secretary of State Colin Powell's expression of regret at the Chinese pilot losing his life was obviously a sensible and choreographed gesture. The Chinese Foreign Minister saying he wanted a speedy resolution was also encouraging. Against that, the Chinese media is becoming increasingly hysterical, which is a very bad sign.

CHINA is now provoking two reactions in the US, both of which are potentially devastating to its national interests. The first is congressional sentiment against kowtowing to the butchers of Beijing. The second, much more important, is the yellow ribbon syndrome.

Australians ought well to understand the popularity among their own community of American servicemen and women. Until now the American public has never really bought into the "China as a serious threat" syndrome. It's been an important but elite sentiment.

This crisis is democratising anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the US in a way that nothing else could. Eventually, if this continues, no Washington administration will be able to take any pro-Chinese action at all. And no nation has been more important in every way to China's modernisation than the US. To unleash unnecessarily such vast popular anti-Chinese sentiment in the US is so dangerous for the Chinese that you can't imagine wise heads in Beijing do not see it clearly.

The Bush administration, because of its hawkish reputation, actually has more room to manoeuvre, and can probably delay a little longer in getting tough, than a Clinton or Gore administration would have. Indeed, although there's a limit to what the Americans can do for the Chinese, it's clearly in everyone's interest for the Bush team to help China find a ladder to climb out of this hole.

But Chinese political clumsiness may mean they cannot quickly find a way to give the American crew back. As the Iranians discovered, if you don't do that quickly, it can be hard to find a reason to do it at all. And that would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone.,4057,1856503%255E1683,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, April 05, 2001

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