Talking over the crash

Talking over the crash

U.S.-China: Nations must start picking up the pieces of a difficult long-standing relationship.

April 18, 2001

THE TALKS in Beijing between technical military delegations from the United States and China will deal with the friction demonstrated by the April 1 air collision near Hainan.

The goal should be an agreement such as the United States forged with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War -- one that prevented such incidents, and ensured that low-level misbehavior or misunderstanding did not drag the superpowers along.

That agreement won't likely appear overnight.

In the longer run, the tone of this contact will prove to be an early indicator of the larger economic and political relationship that is unfolding.

Each side has boxed itself into a corner on assigning blame and innocence in the collision between the U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter.

China asserts that the lumbering surveillance plane rammed the nimble fighter.

Americans are certain to believe the EP-3E crew's accounts of being bumped while on autopilot.

This incident should not govern the decision the Bush administration must soon make on which weapons to sell Taiwan. Beijing's posture toward Taiwan does that.

And it should not govern long-term trade with China. That is based on the permanent normal trading relationship that has been enacted contingent on China's admittance to the World Trade Organization, which is pending.

But saying that the friction of the moment should be kept separate from larger issues does not make it so. Anyone who follows Congress, as Chinese diplomats in Washington do, knows better.

The United States has national interests in stability in East Asia and constructive engagement with the world's most populous nation. China, despite the shrillness of its pronouncements, has an even greater national interest in a productive relationship.

The talks will begin to show what Beijing has decided its priorities to be.

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