April 6, 2001
By Dexter Ingram
But the situation involving 24 American servicemen held on
China's Hainan Island isn't about diplomatic "pleases," "thank
yous" and when to use the salad fork. What China hopes to do by
demanding an apology is humiliate the United States and possibly
force us to stop surveillance flights in the region.
Ironically, because of its demands, China is proving itself the
lesser nation and should apologize to us. Here's why:
1) China's claim that our plane bumped into their fighter jet on
April 1 defies the basic laws of physics. The EP-3 Aries II is a
four-engine turboprop plane that's been described as a "flying pig"
by one military official because of its bulky design and flying
speed of about 345 mph. In contrast, the Chinese F-8 jets are
designed after the Soviet MiG-21, which can reach speeds of 1,355
mph -- more than twice the speed of sound. It's almost impossible
for an EP-3 to come near a fighter jet on purpose, let alone
2) China claims that the plane's crew didn't give proper notice
when it landed on the island and is thus subject to search and
detention. But the crew followed emergency procedures to the
letter: After the collision, it put out a "mayday" distress signal
on a radio frequency that all nations monitor for emergencies. It
then followed its Chinese "escort" -- another jet -- to the island
and landed right behind it on the runway. To hear the Chinese tell
it, you'd think David Copperfield made the U.S. plane materialize
out of nowhere, right on a Chinese runway.
3) Both Chinese and U.S. officials agree the collision happened
about 62 miles from Hainan Island, well beyond the limits of
Chinese air space. But China insists the U.S. plane was in its
territory because the U.S. crew was flying in what it considers
disputed waters of the South China Sea. What many people don't know
is that China claims large parts of the China Sea -- a claim
challenged by Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
4) Many people are calling the EP-3 a "spy" plane when that's
not the case. Maybe that's because "spy" sounds cooler. But
"spying" is really espionage -- conducting secret operations in
other countries. The EP-3 was on a routine surveillance mission in
international airspace, which is done by every major country --
including China -- on a daily basis. So technically, no rules were
China's stubborn insistence on extorting a U.S. apology is
strange indeed. It's probably little more than a stalling tactic
designed to give China more time to interrogate the crew and
examine the plane's surveillance equipment, giving it a chance to
counter or re-engineer U.S. technology. We shouldn't be in the
business of rewarding this behavior.
What else does China hope to achieve by insisting on an apology?
Like so much else about this mess, no one really knows for sure.
Just like no one really knows exactly how well the plane's crew is
being treated in China's "protective custody" -- or when our
servicemen and women are coming home. Or how this will affect
President Bush's planned trip to Beijing this October. Or how this
may affect the already delicate situation between communist China
and democratic Taiwan.
We do know this: The United States is not at fault here. It has
nothing to apologize for. To do so would make us sorry indeed in
the eyes of many at home and abroad. The United States apologize to
an international bully? I don't think so.
Dexter Ingram, a database editor in The Heritage
Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy, served as a naval
Distributed Nationally by the Associated Press
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