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United States Versus China: Who's Sorry Now?

Aired April 17, 2001 - 19:30   ET



RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I mean, if there's any question about it, we want our airplane back, and we're going to make that point, and we would expect to get a response.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the United States versus China: Who's sorry now? Can these two nations both get what they want?

Live from Washington CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Richard Perle, former assistant defense secretary and an American Enterprise Institute fellow, and Steven Clemons, executive vice president of the New America Foundation.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. It's already morning in Beijing, where, within the hour, U.S. diplomats will meet with Chinese officials. On the agenda: How to clean up the mess left by this month's international crisis that wasn't.

The Chinese want the U.S. to stop surveillance flights over the South China Sea. The U.S. wants its surveillance plane back, yesterday, according to the Pentagon. Both sides know what they want. But that doesn't mean either will give an inch. The U.S. Has already indicated it will continue patrols off the Chinese coast. China doesn't seem anxious to return the plane.

Is a stalemate brewing? If so, what should the United States do about it? Erect trade barriers? Sell more weapons to Taiwan? Apologize again? Or is it time to redefine America's fundamental relationship with China, from economic partner to adversary? Sitting in on the left tonight, ably, for Bill Press is Democratic political strategist Bob Shrum -- Bob.

BOB SHRUM, GUEST HOST: Richard Perle, there was a headline I think you probably liked in the "Washington Times" this morning. It says, "U.S. Vows Hard Line." And as we approach negotiations the word "demand," which was so unproductive in first couple of days, has reappeared: Demanding our plane back, demanding new rules about theirs surveillance of our surveillance. Now this didn't work very well at beginning of all this, what happens if we go in and make these demands and they say no? Do we up the ante on Taiwan? Do we sanction or cut off trade? Do we invite a new Cold War? If they say no, what happens next?

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're certainly entitled to get our airplane back. It's is our's. They should deliver it. It should never have been forced to land in the first place, because they shouldn't have collided with our airplane. So we have every right to ask for it back. If they don't give it back, then we may well enter into a protracted negotiation. And the price will have to mount for China with each passing refusal.

SHRUM: Well, give me some examples. What prices would you pay?

PERLE: Well, there's a lot that we could do. And some things we ought to do any way. So, it's a good opportunity. First, we should take a very hard look at the ease with which we have been permitting the Chinese to buy militarily relevant technology in the United States. We should not be assisting the People's Liberation Army to strength itself. That would be a good place to begin.

SHRUM: The president seems a little less certain than you about this. Let me show you a clip where he defines his viewpoint.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: China is a strategic partner -- I mean strategic competitor -- but that doesn't mean we can't find areas in which we can partner.


SHRUM: Now, the Bush policy, since the plane incident seems about as confused as that quote. First, futile demands, then saying we are sorry, and now we are back to demanding, but it's on the same day that "The New York Times" reports we won't send fighter escorts with our surveillance planes. "The Washington Post" says we will send fighter escorts with our surveillance planes. And CNN reports that the decision is being made not sell the advanced Aegis technology to Taiwan.

Does the administration have a coherent policy, or is just a reflective reaction to the pressures and counter pressures of the moment?

PERLE: It has a policy and the policy has worked brilliantly. It troubles you that it's a subtle policy, and therefore a little more complicated.

SHRUM: Subtle and Bush?

PERLE: Subtle and Bush. The president had his eye fixed firmly on the ball, which was to obtain the release of our crew. He didn't want an Iran hostage situation. The Chinese have been taking hostages for centuries. It might well have deteriorated in that. So he said what had to be said in order to do that.

If he now fails to make it very clear to Beijing that you don't take Americans hostage and expect to walk away cost free, what so far been a success will become a failure. So he has to take a tough line, and I believe he will take a tough line.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Clemons, one of the key questions that has been asked over the past month, or one of the most diplomatically questions, is: Who's at fault? Who is at fault for downing the American surveillance plane? Who's at fault for the subsequent standoff?

The Defense Department, apparently, in an effort to answer that question, has released footage of a Chinese fighter buzzing an American surveillance plane. Take a look at this. This is presumed to be Wang Wei, the Chinese pilot who was, of course, killed when his plane collided with the American surveillance plane. Look how close he is.

Is there any question in your mind that the Chinese fighters pilots here, and by extension the Chinese government, are responsible what happened to our plane, and since they are, why shouldn't the Chinese admit it in the meeting that will take place in less than an hour?

STEVEN CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think clearly there's no doubt the Chinese in many ways were testing the president and testing this country, because they don't like to be spied on. Most countries don't. We don't either. We are demonstrating that in lots of ways.

But what is more important than who's to blame here, is the fact that this is an incident that has occurred and has created all sorts of convulsions on both sides of the Pacific over how to deal with it. And it's largely the result of Chinese leadership problems, as well as a presidential administration that doesn't know what it wants from China.

It doesn't know whether it wants to pursue a containment strategy with China, or whether it wants to engage this country. It doesn't know what eggs to throw in the basket, as far as the consequences related to this event. This was a spy mission; this was not a commercial craft. This is a military encounter, and certainly we -- we shouldn't have illusions about Chinese leadership in what they are doing.

But I will remind you, we bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and there was lots of questions then in China about U.S. apologies and contrition and these kinds of questions, too. And I don't want to assign moral ascription to either case, but these are two super powers basically trying to find their way...

CARLSON: Wait, wait, wait a second. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy was a complete accident. The knocking of the surveillance plane out of the sky was an unfortunate extension of a policy that had been going on for months, but... CLEMONS: The manifestation of American engagement in a region where we certainly had interest very well was a mistake. But what happened in that case, President Clinton summoned the China ambassador to the White House to basically sign the condolence book. The president didn't get in his car,didn't drive down to the embassy, didn't say, we are sorry.

The cosmetics of an apology are very important, and I don't have any doubt that the Chinese weren't pushing us to the limit in this case as well. But we are spying on China and we are spying to preserve and protect our interests. The question is, where are we going to go in dealing with where China wants to take its interests in the region.

Are we unwilling to see any expansion of Chinese interests? Because, if that's the case, we are on a collision course. A major collision course in that region. And I think we need to find a better, more constructive engagement policy with China than we have today.

SHRUM: Richard Perle, back before President Bush got subtle and when he was making demands that were not working, you were on "Late Edition" on CNN, and you criticized former President Clinton and his administration "because it would have apologized by now. Apologies were the hallmarks of that administration."

Two days later, this administration said it was very sorry. So, I went and looked up what the United States said after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. And Madeleine Albright said we were, "profoundly sorry."

What is the big difference between very sorry and profoundly sorry? And do you see any merit at all to what I regard as the Bill Clinton/Colin Powell approach of de-escalating a crisis like this, instead of ratcheting it up?

PERLE: The next phone call you will get will be from Colin Powell, who will be rightly outraged at the comparison.

SHRUM: No, he will be angry because he'll think that people on the right like you will go offer him, because I said that, but it happens to be the fact.

PERLE: The hallmark of the Clinton policy was apologies everywhere. They apologized with respect to Korea, they apologized with respect to Iran. The difference between these two incidents, is that we accidentally hit a Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and an apology was entirely appropriate in those circumstances.

What you had from the president was a form of words which was the minimum consistent with getting our crew out of there. Because the alternative was for them to languish in some Chinese prison. So, he did the tactically correct thing to get them out.

There's no question about what happened. This was like a collision between a car and a tree, and they're asking the tree to apologize. If there are apologies in order here, they are from the Chinese to us for the reckless endangerment of their pilot, and the fact they almost killed our crew. So, but this was not an apology; this was a tactical move to get our guys out.

SHRUM: And I think it was the right thing to do. And I think once Colin Powell got hold of the policy and we did that instead of making demands, as we had in the first two days, in which Secretary Kissinger criticized the president, we were on the right track.

But you still haven't answered my question. What is the difference between very sorry and profoundly sorry, except for an adverb?

PERLE: The difference is what follows, and what I believe is going to follow here is a policy toward China that indicates that the president did the tactical thing, and there is no real remorse there.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Clemons, you seem to be making the case that the United States and China are very much alike, that they both have expansionist goals and that really the questions of apologies are really just semantic matter.

CLEMONS: I don't think America has expansionist goals.

CARLSON: Or you seem to imply that Chinese expansionism is really not necessarily a concern. It might not be as maudlin as people say it is.

CLEMONS: I think it's inevitable. I think the Chinese expansion in their sphere of influence has to co-exist with American interest.

CARLSON: But then, isn't the...


CARLSON: ... to try to contain it, and doesn't our apology embolden other countries with expansionist agendas, and why would we want to embolden them?

CLEMONS: I think it's in clear American interest to direct where -- to try to direct, co-opt, hijack influence, cultivate the best attributes that we can have out of China. Because if we don't, the real consequence to the United States today is not going to the war with China. We could clobber China very, very quickly.

The consequence of China to the United States is economic. We have a 10-to-1 trade ratio with China, where they -- to their average. We need to take this giant, non-market-based economy in the most populous nation in the world and make it a rules-based society.

CARLSON: But that gives us the leverage, doesn't it? I mean, if we are the country purchasing their exports, then of course, we have the stick.

CLEMONS: But we don't have the stick if we withdraw normal trading relations. We don't have the stick if we threaten them with hosting the Olympics in 2008.

What we want to do is take a rather complex relationship that used to be everything -- human rights issues used to be tied in the annual MFN debate -- we need a much broader, highly textured relationship, just as we had with the Soviets, so that if you have one explosion in one part of that relationship, you can maintain a reasonable set of contacts and relationships with China on other fronts. And we don't have that today, because the Bush White House hasn't figured where it wants to go with China.

CARLSON: We will in our next segment get to the consequences of China's misdeeds. Both of our guests, incidentally, will be in the chat room right after the show, so make certain to join them by logging into

Up next, President Bush has a plan to reconcile with China, but can he keep Congress in check? We will find out when we come back.


SHRUM: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Bob Shrum sitting in on the left.

As U.S. and Chinese negotiators prepare to meet just minutes from now, we're here dispensing our last minute advice. How tough should the U.S. be? Do we get our surveillance plane back? When will another one fly? And what will all this clear air turbulence do to the American-Chinese relationship?

With us tonight: the former Reagan Assistant Defense Secretary who actually wrote a book called "Hard Line," American Enterprise Institute fellow Richard Perle, and the executive vice president of the New America Foundation, Steven Clemons -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Now, Steven Clemons, you mentioned in the last segment the Olympics and raised a question of whether or not the United States should oppose the Olympics being held in 2008 in China. The answer, of course, is, needless to say, yes, we should oppose it, but let me give you a good reason why. Let me read you a quote from Charles Krauthammer, the columnist. This appeared this week. Charles Krauthammer writes: "Whenever powerful party dictatorships have held Olympics, they have used it not to liberalize and open up, but to glorify their ruling and increase their power.

Thus the Nazi Olympics of 1936 and the Soviet Olympics of 1980. We need not add to that list the People's Republic Olympics of 2008." This raises the unargueable point that fundamentally, the Olympics are not about money, about bringing economic development to an area, but about conferring legitimacy. And of all the countries on which we can confer legitimacy, why a totalitarian country like China?

CLEMONS: I think that's an overreach, and I guess I disagree. I think when you have the Olympics and the world's eye on another nation, particularly a totalitarian state, and you take two billion eyes into that country to see what's going on, that makes it very difficult for that country there. I think that hosting the Olympics, one, should be separate from these political questions as possible, particularly when we overreact to incident rather that follow a strategy. But secondly, I think that all of the issues -- we're getting to culture, sports and economics exchange and trade are the kinds of things that bring light into dark places, that help us connect with the people in these countries that are the victims of this totalitarian state. I don't think it confers legitimacy at all.

CARLSON: But wait a second, we know so much -- but hold on, if your thesis is that by learning more about the way China really is, it will liberalize China and sensitize us to the cultural intricacies of a society like that. We already know a whole lot about the appalling human rights abuses that take place in China, and the Chinese don't appear to be embarrassed by them at all!

Why not reward a country like, say, Taiwan, which has become politically liberalized, even as it has become more prosperous. Why not -- why not use the Olympics to reward a country like that?

CLEMONS: I don't see any reason why not to reward a country as well, but I do have a problem excluding countries from consideration.


PERLE: It's clear the decision as to where the Olympics should be held has not yet been made. China would like to have it in China. Every time the Olympics are held in a totalitarian state, the first thing the secret police does is round up anyone who disagrees with the regime, so that they can't appear on television, they can't bring the light you're talking about.

There is not going to be any light out of these Olympics. The camera will be focused on the athletes, on the playing field, and China will get an undeserved recognition.


SHRUM: Richard, what if we oppose holding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and we lose that vote, because other nations don't stand with us. You were for boycotting the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Would you be for boycotting the Beijing Olympics in 2008?

PERLE: There is plenty of time to decide that. I think that if we take a forceful position within the Olympic decision-making structure, we will prevail.

SHRUM: Let me read you a quote from Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee, because I want to go back to this whole idea of trade sanctions or economic sanctions.

And we can put it up for our viewers: "You want another irony? The island where the plane went down? Hainan? A U.S. company, Loral, is building a radar system there for the Chinese government." {NOTE: Loral contacted CNN and denied that it is building a radar system for the Chinese government}

But that's not the only irony in this subtle Bush policy. President Bush's uncle was in China after the plane went down trying to do more business deals. Vice President Cheney's company Halliburton is one of the biggest U.S. money-makers in China.

Now, I'm against trade sanctions, because I think the hard line doesn't work. But if this administration is going to take a hard line, why did they rule out the one measure, the economics actions against China, that would help their big business partners? What's the theory here? If it's bad for Halliburton, it's bad for America?

PERLE: No, clearly not, and you didn't hear me say we ought to impose trade sanctions. I said we should be careful about what technology we sell to China.

SHRUM: So, you would rule out trade sanctions?

PERLE: I'm not ruling anything in or out, but I'd like to explain the theory behind it, and the theory is that as China becomes more affluent, as American companies operating in China bring a little bit of America to China, this will have, inevitably, a liberalizing effect.

Now, that remains to be seen. So for the moment, it's theory worth attempts because alternative of China as a militarized totalitarian state is pretty awful. If we eventually come to the conclusion that it isn't working, then we'd have to reconsider.

SHRUM: Given your views, that sounds to me like a lucid rationalization of a policy that works for business which absolutely contradicts what you just said about the Olympics, because if the U.S. goes over there, if the society is more open, if the world goes there, if it's exposed to these athletes around the world, if telecommunications are in there, I think you're going to have at least as much effect on Chinese society as Loral building a radar installation on Hainan Island.

PERLE: We saw what happened in the Moscow Olympics. The computers that were used in the Moscow Olympics were ultimately turned over to the KGB and used by the KGB. I think we need some discriminating and tough measures with respect to China.

Controlling the flow of militarily relevant technology to them is one. Another is of a political nature. We should stop asking the Taiwanese, when they visit this country, to come through the back door. It shows a lack of respect. It shows a lack of confidence and it's a self-imposed form of behavior. There is no agreement between us and China that requires us to relegate Taiwanese diplomats and Taiwanese officials to a kind of third in, back door status. We should change that.

SHRUM: So, they can have the Olympics as long as we don't give them computer to keep track of how fast people are running.

PERLE: No, I don't want....

SHRUM: I mean, if that's your only objection. PERLE: I don't want to give them the Olympics because I don't think sports events of that kind should be held in totalitarian societies.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Clemons, in just the minute or so we have left, Richard Perle mentioned this very confusing and in some ways hypocritical stand we have toward Taiwan. It strikes me now is the time to arm Taiwan. Wasn't it the argument that arms control experts made during the Cold War that parity somehow brings stability. I mean, why not? If China, as you admitted, has expansionist aims, why not send the Aegis and more like it.

CLEMONS: I'm actually not opposed to arming Taiwan, to selling it submarines, which I've endorsed in the past and for which Taiwan has been seeking for some time. Ted Kennedy has been supportive of selling the Aegis system. What I am opposed to is a decision this week on the system, follow one incident with another incident without a compelling strategy. I don't know if this is Colin Powell's foreign policy or President Bush's foreign policy...

CARLSON: This is just the time. When China flexes its muscle, you flex back and say, no dice, pal.

CLEMONS: I don't think tit-for-tat strategies work among great powers. I think well-conceived national strategies that take into account the economic dimensions of interests as well as the security dimensions of interests that plays within our interests in the Asia- Pacific region, how we approach Taiwan and our relationship with China, that is what's going to be secure. Otherwise, you have a tit- for-tat escalation over ego issues. That's very dangerous.

PERLE: There's a bottom line under this: when this is all over, the Chinese must say to themselves, we made a big mistake. We shouldn't have done that.

CARLSON: And one imagines they will. Steve Clemons, Richard Perle, thank you for joining us. Bob Shrum and I will be back in just a moment with our sizzling closing comments in which we will wrap up this whole mess. That's in just a moment.


CARLSON: The CROSSFIRE doesn't end here tonight. Richard Perle and Steven Clemons are in our chat room to take you questions at

OK, Bob, it was humiliating for the United States to apologize for having its own plane knocked out of the sky, its own men threatened with spy trials, but we have a chance to redeem ourselves. That chance comes in less than an hour in Beijing. We ought to demand they apologize.

SHRUM: Tucker, I think that you and Richard Perle want to restart the Cold War...

(CROSSTALK) SHRUM: No, I think you want to restart the Cold War. I think George Bush is confused. I hope he finds the right way. I hope he listens to Colin Powell, and from the left, sitting in on the left, I'm Bob Shrum. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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