Montréal, 12 mai 2001  /  No 83
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          That line from Kipling came to mind the other day when reflecting upon the Chinese fighter plane which, just before Easter, struck a US electronic intelligence plane allegedly in International waters. Since the Chinese jet was able to fly at twice the speed of the reconnaissance plane it is highly unlikely that the reverse occurred. For unexplained reasons, rather than ditching in the sea the pilot landed the plane on Hainan Island where its inner workings appear to have been well and truly examined by curious and presumably delighted Chinese military people.
          After some days of intense diplomatic activity, mainly about finding the appropriate formula for apologizing, the crew were released and returned home to a hero's welcome. A peculiar American habit considering the somewhat questionable circumstances under which the incident took place.  
          Perhaps the man most disappointed by the agreement to return those aircrew to the USA was Jesse Jackson. It will be recalled that he was just getting ready to focus the spotlight on himself – perhaps to remove the stigma of illegitimate parenthood – when the Chinese decided to accept the formulation of the US apology. Could this become the foundation of a new « Bush Doctrine »? Something along the lines of « If you take any US citizens hostage, we will retaliate immediately by sending Jesse Jackson to you. » What a frightening prospect that is for anyone to contemplate; no wonder the Chinese agreed.  
The « China Problem » 
          Not too long ago, as one wag reported, the « China Problem » might have had more to do with whether the White House staff had counted the crockery after the Clinton family had moved out, than about the standoff mentioned above. This started me thinking about the apparent deterioration of relations between the USA and China. Clear thinking Americans are very anxious to increase trade and investment in China because they want access to the enormous market that China offers. They know also that the more trade there is between the two countries the less likely is the chance of war. It was most likely the fact that the health of the two economies was linked so inextricably that in the end made the two governments realize that each had more to gain from good relations rather than bad ones.  
          However, while commerce may be the glue that binds nations together in peace, one cannot ignore the real reason why the EP-3E surveillance aircraft was flying along the coast of China. One of the plane's activities was the gathering of e-lint related to an impending underground nuclear test at the Lop Nor testing facility in western Xinjiang province. Earlier, US spy satellite photographs had shown some activity related to nuclear testing at a location on the testing site. One US official said that the underground blast could be another in a series of « sub-critical » nuclear tests – small explosions which do not produce any actual nuclear yield but are useful in weapons development and maintenance. Other officials familiar with the intelligence reports said that the Chinese are known to have a covert testing program that relies on small, or low-yield, nuclear explosions. 
          The last time that China conducted any large-scale nuclear tests was in 1996, the year it agreed to the international nuclear test ban known as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At that time, US intelligence agencies believed the tests to be the first ones using a small warhead thought to be based on the design of the W-88, then the United States' most advanced small nuclear warhead, which had presumably been obtained by espionage. Although China signed the treaty, which banned all underground nuclear blasts, China said when it signed that « it would continue to evaluate the safety and reliability of its nuclear weapons. » A caveat that must have made the US authorities very suspicious indeed.  
          It is known also that, several years ago, agents from Beijing purchased special nuclear containment equipment from Russia. This action confirmed US suspicions about the secret Chinese nuclear testing program since the special equipment they obtained is known to mask the seismic signature of a nuclear explosion. Explosions such as the small one set off by China in June 1999, just days before a US diplomat delivered an apology to Beijing for the allegedly mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The timing of that test, which also took place at Lop Nor, was seen as an intentional signal from Beijing, which had cut off all military contacts with the United States and had begun vitriolic attacks on the United States through its government-controlled press. 
Not fully in control 
          The plane's secondary objective was to keep track of activity at the missile sites aimed at Taiwan. China's known opposition to the Bush administration's plans for arms sales to Taiwan and to its plans for deployment of a national missile defence system, has engaged it in a concerted effort to influence US policies, according to defence and intelligence officials. One US defence official said the testing activity at this time is a sign that China's leader, President Jiang Zemin, may not be fully in control. « Some say Jiang is a moderate who wants good relations with the United States, » the official said. « If that's the case, this test during a difficult period with the United States indicates that he is not in control of China. » There was certainly some indication that the Chinese military machine was applying pressure to the politicians. An opinion shared by the prestigious magazine The Economist in its April 21st edition. 
     « While commerce may be the glue that binds nations together in peace, one cannot ignore the real reason why the EP-3E surveillance aircraft was flying along the coast of China. » 
          Regarding the absence of the Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who did not return from his trip to South America and Cuba to oversee the way the crisis was handled. One explanation was that « …once the Chinese government realized their position was somewhere between weak and non-existent, Jiang needed that most precious of Head-of-State prerogatives: Plausible Deniability. » The Premier, Zhu Rongji, too was reported to have been out of Beijing for much, if not most, of the 12-day period to give him some breathing room as well.  
          This contrasts with the way the US president dealt with the problem. Presumably, after someone had explained to him where China was, President Bush simply gave the required overall direction and allowed US diplomats to deal with the details. One such detail is the fact that the Americans never sent a letter to China in anything but their own unmistakable version of the English language so that the required form of the word « apology » in Chinese – upon which the Chinese were insisting – could not be an issue.  
          The EP-3E conducts signals intelligence operations aimed at collecting large amounts of communications and other electronic signals. The aircraft's sensitive equipment is capable of picking up communications thousands of miles inland, including any signals from Lop Nor. The US intelligence community also uses RC-135 reconnaissance flights and spy satellites to collect intelligence as well as using « sniffer » aircraft to detect any nuclear particles produced from nuclear tests after they take place. 
          As noted above, China has tested its missiles and nuclear weapons to use them as political signals to the United States and they are currently engaged in a build-up of major strategic weapons. It is known that last year, they conducted two flight tests of a new mobile long-range missile known as the DF-31. Intelligence reports indicate that China is now building a longer-range missile known as the DF-41 and a new class of ballistic missile submarine to be equipped with a naval version of the DF-31. 
A war in the cards? 
          China's continued testing of missiles, both medium and long range is all that more threatening now that they have new bases in Panama and the Bahamas. Such close proximity will allow the Chinese to strike most US cities with nuclear weapons, with little warning. Some informed Americans such as the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and advisor to seven US presidents, Admiral Thomas Moorer, are of the opinion that a war with China is likely within the next two or three years.  
          China's military build-up, the rhetoric about Taiwan, its use of illegal immigrants and their arming of guerrillas in Central America are all part and parcel of a potential challenge to the US. The taking of the aircrew as hostage gave the Chinese an opportunity to test President Bush's resolve and at the same time discover just how much the Americans knew about the status of their nuclear testing program and their missile sites. It was certainly a lot less expensive than trying to infiltrate a bunch of Chinese spies into Los Alamos. 
          In what must be an almost perfect example of the law of unintended consequences, American defence and aircraft firms won contracts in the late 1980s and 1990s to upgrade Chinese F-8II fighter jets of the type used to intercept the EP-3E aircraft. Northrup Grumman, a leading US military aircraft maker, provided avionics upgrades for the F-8II – one of China's first modern, indigenously built fighters – under a « massive » program that included guidance kits and weapons systems upgrades.  
          In 1995, following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of Chinese students by People's Liberation Army troops, the New American magazine reported that « Chinese military officers were allowed back into the US to resume work with Grumman's. » According to an advisor to a US Representative, it is known too that China's largest aerospace firm, the China Aero-Technology Import Export Company, « has been permitted to obtain avionics, guidance kits and weapons systems to upgrade the F-8 fighter-bomber, which was co-developed with US aerospace manufacturers. » 
          When President Bush spoke a couple of weeks ago of defending democratic Taiwan against communist China, many were unhappy with his statement. Perhaps they were afraid that their sons will be drafted and sent to fight on some distant island. But, it cannot be forgotten that in East Asia the US has little choice but to deal with communist countries. Countries whose leaders are pledged to destroy capitalism.  
          To think that Beijing will stop with incorporating Taiwan into its bosom and then be satisfied, is foolish. Those who have forgotten the lessons of Mr Hitler and his final demands will learn another painful lesson, or at least the children of their unwitting electorate will learn it. The communists will continue to devour their neighbors until the Pacific Ocean is essentially a Chinese lake. Later – why else have they positioned themselves at the Panama Canal – they will move into the Western Hemisphere with their troops and their missiles. 
Deaths at home 
          Those who do not understand Chinese ambitions, or the communist mind, have much to learn. If they think that by letting China absorb Taiwan and the rest of eastern Asia it will save their sons from death upon some foreign field they are utterly wrong. All that they will be doing is making sure that their grandsons, if not their sons, will die here at home at some time in the future. Lenin and his disciples talked of the future possibility of surrounding and blockading capitalist North America. Lenin argued too that only a revolution that destroyed capitalism could bring lasting peace, Lenin's disciples in today's China have undoubtedly not forgotten any of this.  

          Other critics see American defence policy as defending America to the last foreigner, since their general policy has always been to defend their country at a distance. Up until now this has worked quite well, but the next time it will not be noisy little Cuba threatening the US with some short range missiles, it will be the huge Chinese army with its somewhat larger and more powerful missile forces knocking at the door. 
          President Bush's promise to aid the cause of Chinese democracy on Taiwan, adds Taiwan's military strength to that of the US and strengthens the resolve of those other forces allied with the US, thus reducing the risk to US lives. At the same time, the sales of weapons to Taiwan helps US trade and in effect supports US defence capability by placing the US defensive line in the Western Pacific. With advanced bases in Northeast Asia and South Korea, Japan and Taiwan and with the addition of millions of troops and reserves to the US side, the Chinese are now at some disadvantage. 
          With increased trade and the firming of US military strength in the area the likelihood of medium term Chinese adventuring has been reduced appreciably. One has just to imagine the situation if the economic power of Japan and South Korea (not to mention Taiwan), were to be united with that of communist China and North Korea. Such an alliance would produce large quantities of efficient ships, aircraft, missiles and weapon. Is there anyone who still believes that such combined forces would not then be used against the capitalist democracies of this hemisphere? 
* « An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! » is the last line of the last verse of Mandalay, by Rudyard Kipling.
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