American Hostages in China: The Next “Peace Process War”

by | Apr 9, 2001

For the past week, commentators have decried the return of “dangerous Cold War thinking.” But the crisis with China is just the opposite. It is not a return to the past, but rather the outcome of America’s eager courtship, over the last decade, of China’s communist leaders. Consider the pattern. For months, China has pursued […]

For the past week, commentators have decried the return of “dangerous Cold War thinking.” But the crisis with China is just the opposite. It is not a return to the past, but rather the outcome of America’s eager courtship, over the last decade, of China’s communist leaders.

Consider the pattern. For months, China has pursued a policy of deliberate confrontation over the South China Sea, sending its fighter jets to harass American surveillance planes in international airspace. But when one of its fighters gets too close and causes an accident, Chinese officials immediately blame the United States and — before either side can even investigate the incident — demands that America “bear all responsibilities for the consequences of the incident.” Meanwhile, they are “holding” the airplane’s crew; “holding” is the term we use to avoid calling our airmen “prisoners” or “hostages.”

China’s foreign policy is, and always has been, the policy of an ineffectual street-corner bully. It consists of constant, bellowing attempts at intimidation and petulant demands for “respect” — a charade made pathetic by China’s actual inadequacy in the face of America’s military and economic power. Thus, as Chinese leaders see that they are bringing on themselves a series of fatal repercussions — trade restrictions, the loss of the 2008 Olympics, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan — they have begun to search desperately for a face-saving solution.

The crucial aspect of this story, however, is that the Chinese are looking to America to help them find that solution; they know that they can only succeed, not on the power of their own demands, but through some kind of American concession.

What makes them think they can get away with it? Here is a sample: A New York Times editorial pontificates that “reflexive posturing on both sides has only … pointed the way toward a serious deterioration of relations.” (Reflexively blaming both sides is a return to liberal Cold War thinking.) A China expert on a conservative news show agrees that the most important thing is not to let this crisis distract from the “main thread” of our China policy. President Bush declares that “we should not let this incident destabilize our relations.”

What the Chinese are counting on is the basic premise behind our China policy — and the basic premise behind every conflict that is mediated by what diplomats like to call a “peace process.” The assumption behind a “peace process” is that continued negotiation with one’s enemies — the continuation of the diplomatic “process” — is the only absolute in international relations. The actual goals that a society might want to attain by achieving peace — such values as justice, individual rights, and the security of its citizens — are considered secondary and must be sacrificed for the sake of “preserving the peace process.” The result, in reality, is that dictators and terrorists are emboldened. They know that the best way to obtain more concessions is to manufacture a new crisis.

The justification for this policy is a false alternative between American “arrogance” and appeasing “humility.” And what could be more humble — and humiliating — than responding to aggression by sacrificing your rights and interests to meet your attackers’ demands?

This is the consistent theme of the last decade of U.S. relations with China. The Chinese government guns down thousands of political protesters, and we condemn them — then Bush the Elder sends in the diplomats to patch everything up. They lob missiles over Taiwan and we send a carrier battle group to the area — then vote China a Most Favored Nation. They sell weapons to Iran and Pakistan, and we complain — then recommend China’s membership in the World Trade Organization.

The Bush administration has so far continued this mixed message. Last week, we met Chinese demands half-way, refusing to apologize but expressing “regret” for the death of a Chinese pilot. In this context — when Chinese policies caused this collision, but they have yet to express any kind of “regret” — this is an absurd concession of the type one would expect from the last administration.

Perhaps Bush is simply talking softly until our airmen are safely home. When they do return, then, the president must respond to China’s outrageous provocation by demanding the return of Chinese-born American academics imprisoned in China, whose fate has been forgotten in the recent crisis — and he must approve the badly needed sale of anti-missile technology to Taiwan.

These are the measures needed to deter further conflicts by showing China that America will not place any empty diplomatic “process” above the need to protect its own interests.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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