China: April 11, 2001

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China has agreed to release the crew of the EP-3 now sitting on a Chinese airfield. Shortly before this announcement, the Chinese media broadcast the "regrets" president Bush and Secretary of State Powell had made about the death of the Chinese J-8 pilot several days ago. Of course, this news was all over China via the internet shortly after it was made. Also known to more and more Chinese people was the growing anger in the US over the captive Americans. The internet also reported the growing calls from US politicians for retribution against China. These threats ranged from new weapons for Taiwan to trade restrictions. News of how the collision was likely to have happened was also reaching China. Apparently the EP-3 was on autopilot when the collision occurred. Moreover, there was ample information on the internet about the EP-3, including its flight characteristics. This made it increasingly clear to many Chinese that it was nearly impossible for the EP-3 to have caused the collision. This put the military on the defensive, and the government under pressure to settle the matter before China suffered serious damage. Next we will see how the military responds to this defeat. The Chinese have been demanding that American cease it's recon flights. This is not going to happen, as the EP-3 incident made it even more clear that the Chinese military was becoming more aggressive, not less. American lives would be at risk if recon flights were stopped and the Chinese tried some more adventuresome moves that involved US ships or aircraft.  One important thing the incident highlighted was the sensitivity of ordinary Chinese (including many living in America) to the appearance of Western nations "taking advantage of China." To many Chinese, China is still the victim of two centuries of abuse by the West (and surrogates like Western minded Japan.) Chinese are very proud of their ancient civilization and many feel that China does not get the international respect it is due. At the same time, Chinese realize, even if they won't say it, that most of their problems are internal. Unfortunately, one ancient Chinese custom is to play down internal problems and to use illusions and rhetoric to divert attention from them. For example, the official explanation of the current economic restructuring in China is not that it is the introduction of a free market, but merely a clever Chinese development of Marxist theory. Most Chinese consider this nonsense, but it is the official doctrine and anyone publicly contradicting it risks trouble from the thought police. China has always had problems translating internal fantasies for foreigners. For most of China's history, officials didn't even try. When the Communists took over in the late 1940s, a new fantasy (Marxism) was introduced and it wasn't until the 1970s that China made an effort to work with the rest of the world. It's been a difficult process, and the EP-3 incident was simply one of the more obvious examples of what happens when the translation doesn't work.

 

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