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President Bush’s calm handling of the “spy plane” dispute with China proved that he has the “right stuff” to lead America through difficult times. This incident also highlighted how different the world is.

America no longer faces a Soviet opponent whose stated purpose is America’s destruction. The Chinese are not Asian Russians. The Soviets couldn’t even last for a century. The Chinese have been around for seven millenniums. The Soviets rejected everything that made Russian culture Russian. The Chinese competitor that we face has embraced everything that makes China Chinese. All you have to do is to compare China’s march toward capitalism with Russia. While Russia is falling apart, China is sprinting towards an unprecedented economic renaissance. China is a much more formidable competitor than the USSR, but they are not our enemy, and that difference is significant.

When WWII ended, it marked the end of centuries of domination of China by external powers. Their experiences during their occupation gave the Chinese a burning need to show the world that China is no longer weak.

In a way, China reminds me of America at the beginning of the last century. At the dawn of the last century, America’s Civil War was a half-century-old. The established powers saw us as a brash upstart. Oh how quickly things changed in five short decades, and now the cycle starts over. However, this time, it is China, not the U.S., that has something to prove.

China says it will send a man to the moon by the end of this decade. China says it will become our military equal by the middle of the next decade. Few can question that their getting access to the guts of our spy plane will speed that process. And China wants to replace Japan as the preeminent power in Asia.

China’s announced goals mean that she will be the focus of American diplomacy, intelligence gathering and national security planning for the rest of our lives and beyond. Nevertheless, unlike the Cold War with the Soviets, the rules of this new game are as different as the players.

Every day, Americans buy more than $33,000,000 in products and services from China. Today, more than ten thousand Chinese students are earning their graduate degrees in universities across America. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants have become permanent residents or American citizens. American firms have invested tens of billions of dollars in projects and businesses in China.

America’s unprecedented contribution to China’s rapid economic growth has no parallel with our Cold War with the Soviets. Instead of sending scores of KGB-type officers to steal our secrets, China sends thousands of students to learn our secrets. Instead of plotting to destroy our economic system, China is working to master the mysteries of capitalism for their own needs. These differences have serious implications for how we act in the future.

Some fear that China is becoming a military threat to us. I understand that concern. After all, Chinese troops killed thousands of American soldiers during the Korean War. Stories persist that they took thousands of American POWs to China. We never saw these men again. Nevertheless, the harsh reality is that Russia, Korea and India are much more likely to do battle with China than America. Because they all share a border with China. For Russia specifically, China remembers the days when all of what we now call Siberia was part of the Chinese kingdom.

America’s Asian policy centers on continued protection of Taiwan. The Chinese claim that Taiwan is a breakaway province controlled by those who lost the Chinese Civil War. Even so, the Republic of China was a loyal ally of the United States for decades. We will have no honor if we abandon our allies.

Despite our commitment to our ally Taiwan, it is imperative that we understand how relations are changing between Taiwan and China. During the past decade, Taiwanese business people have invested tens billions of dollars in new plants and businesses in Mainland China. Much of China’s remarkable economic transformation has been designed by, funded by, and managed by citizens of Taiwan. Recently, China and Taiwan have started sending passenger ships back and forth between the two countries.

The Chinese on the mainland and in Taiwan will solve their reunification problem on their own before this decade is over. It’s also obvious, by how China responded to the “plane incident,” that she cannot afford to go to war with Taiwan over reunification. Does that mean that we walk away from Taiwan? No. However, it does mean that we must work hard to help these estranged branches of the Chinese family to resolve their differences peacefully.

Our military personnel from Combat Reconnaissance Flight No. 1 are now on U.S. soil. They are safe. They are back home. Next week, America will send another “spy plane” off the coast of China. In fact, during the next 12 months, more than 200 such flights will fly off China’s coast. Let us hope that both sides have learned that we won’t solve another “accident” so easily.

Some Americans want to punish China for holding our people hostage. They want to prevent China from entering the World Trade Organization. Others want to block China from hosting the 2008 Olympics. Many Chinese, on the other hand, are castigating their government for being weak. They wanted us to scrape and bow. Both attitudes are wrong.

China is not the Soviet Union. However, there are members of the Chinese military and civilian government who would like nothing more than for China to again become a Marxist-Leninist state. “Reformers” who have studied the Soviets and the Japanese oppose them. These reformers believe that China can win an economic war with the United States. They know that no one will win a military war. It is in our national interest that these reformers win their internal struggle for power.

That means that instead of escalating the confrontation between our two countries, we must weave a web of economic, cultural and political ties that will make it very difficult for China to become a military threat. The easiest way to do that is to end China’s isolation from the international community.

Entrance into the World Trade Organization is something that China’s leaders desperately want. It is more than a matter of face. WTO membership will make them an equal on the world stage.

Nevertheless, even before the Chinese enter the WTO, they are learning that the WTO is a double-edged sword. Once they become WTO members, they will no longer have to negotiate yearly trade agreements with the U.S. and other countries. On the other hand, WTO membership will force them to open up their markets to unprecedented international competition. Already, Chinese automobile, computer and other companies that they protected from international competition are starting to consolidate. They are taking proactive moves in anticipation of a WTO-mandated end of a whole host of Chinese market protection laws.

This process works in America’s interests. As China’s economy becomes more dependent upon trade with the West, the price of military aggression rises rapidly. As more Chinese students obtain their masters and doctorates from American universities, we will have infected them with the virus of freedom, individual rights and capitalism. As the Chinese middle class continues to expand rapidly, the will of Chinese people to give up their newly earned comforts to die on the battle field will wane. As American, European and other firms expand their operations throughout China, sending spy planes off China’s coast to learn what she is doing will no longer be necessary.

It is true that WTO membership will deprive America of the ability to use the “most favored nation” trade debate each year to influence how the Chinese treat Christians and dissidents. However, the challenge of helping the Chinese government understand why human rights and the environment are so important to so many of us is better handled, strange as it may seem, by making sure that China hosts the 2008 Olympics.

Because if China hosts the Olympics seven years from now, she will be a hostage for most of this decade. If the Olympics come to Beijing in 2008, China will have to open up its country and learn about other cultures in ways that are unprecedented in China’s history. At the top of her list will be adapting her policies to be more responsive to the standards of the west. Otherwise, she will lose maximum face by suffering a Moscow-like or Los Angeles-like boycott. Because if she does not adjust her internal policies to meet the human rights and environmental standards of the west, they will boycott the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese are too proud to allow that to occur.

The old approach of saber rattling and punishment have served their purpose. China is neither our friend nor our enemy at this time. They are our competitor. It is time for us to adopt a new approach. How we respond in the coming year will play a role in determining which side wins the succession battles in China.

As President Bush so forcefully showed, we must clearly state our interests and not back down. But we must also engage China in a more intimate dance. Because it’s really hard to hit your partner when you’re dancing the Tango.

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