Lessons from the U.S.-China Standoff

It's time to cull some lessons from the recent U.S.-China spy-plane imbroglio now that the crew has been freed. We don't know what Beijing will take away from the incident, but there is plenty for Washington to learn.

-- China is no longer ruled by a simple dictatorship dominated by one man, but rather a complex coalition of often competing forces within the Communist party. The hard-line military, clearly, has grown in power. Public opinion, thanks to the Internet, is a new force. Political leaders in Beijing must pay heed to a broad range of interest groups, including those in the economy. All this makes decision-making a long process in China.

-- Public bellicosity doesn't help. The hard-line stance against China by President Bush in the first days of his administration inflamed the situation. Chinese belligerence made things worse. When the Bush Administration switched to a patient, judicious, but tough negotiating style, it worked.

-- Nationalism is rampant in China, especially among students. It vies with an equally powerful Chinese desire for globalization and integration into the world economy. U.S. foreign policy must now consider both opposing forces.

-- Taiwan remains the flashpoint in U.S.-China relations. The U.S. should continue its One China policy but insist on a peaceful reunification as the two systems converge over time. Until then, it should supply Taiwan with adequate military means to remain a de facto independent country. In return, it should require Taiwan not to declare de jure independence, which would trigger a war with China involving the U.S.

Globalization remains the best means for peacefully integrating China and democratizing its society. But the Chinese military's quick-tempered willingness to try to bully the U.S. and its Asian allies must be checked.

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