Express - April 15, 2001
By Raffique Shah
NEW United States President-by-a-whisker, George Bush Jnr., was really taken for an April's fool when, on April 1, one of his intelligence services' high-tech spy planes was brought down by China's Air Force when it was found snooping around that country's coastline. When the spy plane being forced to land on Hainan island, and even as China declared that one of its planes and the pilot were missing because of the mid-air action, Bush immediately went on the offensive, demanding that China release the plane and crew forthwith. It was typical American arrogance. But this time around the President forgot he was dealing with Beijing, not Baghdad.
Thus began the first major diplomatic crisis that the newly elected President faced, as the world watched with great interest. In fact, it was the first time that USA came up against the only other superpower in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So it was intriguing to see how Bush would handle China asserting its territorial rights over US intrusion in its air space, an imperialistic position that Washington has reserved for itself. And true to form, Bush botched it.
Let us examine what the facts, as revealed so far, are. This US spy plane just happened to be flying close to Hainan Island, which is Chinese territory. It is located a less than 80 kilometres off the mainland and is almost as big as Taiwan (which is around 14,000 square miles large and has a population of more than 20 million). China, which lays claim to Taiwan, also has a number of other islands in the general area. These include Hsisha Ch'untao (also known as Parcel Island) and Dongsha Dao that are more than 500 kilometres off the mainland. This general area, I need add, is close to Viet Nam, another country that does not exactly welcome American spy planes.
So what was Bush's extensively equipped aircraft, complete with a crew of 24, doing in those parts? Just cruising by? With its closest "friend", Taiwan, a few thousand kilometres away? Given the description of the innocuous-looking plane, unless the pilots lost their way, they must have been on a mission. It is safe to assume they must have been spying on either China or Viet Nam. As my friend Rex (Lassalle) put it, "Yuh come peeping over mih wall, eyeing mih zabocas and mangoes, and ah catch yuh! So I grab yuh by de scruff of yuh neck, pull you into mih property, rest a few taps on you, and leave you to chill out in the dog house until I feel like releasing you. What's wrong with that?"
And he is quite correct. Apologists for the US will claim that they believe Bush, that the plane just happened to be in the area, or worse, it was outside China's territorial waters and was forced to land at Hainan by Chinese fighter planes. But put in another perspective, what would the US do if it were to discover a single-engine Cessna owned by Cuba, and capable of nothing more than dusting crops, flying anywhere near its air space? The US Air Force would more than likely shoot the plane down and claim it was on a spying mission. With the evidence buried deep under the sea, who will believe it was only a crop-duster?
But ever since the demise of the Soviet Union-hell, even before that-the US has arrogated unto itself the role of world policeman with a permanent warrant to search (and destroy, if necessary in its view) any country in the world. While the Trinidad and Tobago Government legitimised this by signing the Shiprider Agreement, the truth is the US does not need such mutual treaties to carry out its missions, whatever their objectives. The case of Iraq underscores this. Eleven years after the Gulf War, the US-imposed sanctions are still in place. That did not happen after Hitler almost conquered the world. In fact, within a few years, the defeated Germany was given substantial financial aid by the USA, and in short time it became an important part of Europe's defence against Russia, as well as a burgeoning economic power.
It was always, therefore, a case of Uncle Sam punishing Third World countries "to the max" while playing hansy-pansy with his kith and kin. Check the different treatment meted out to Bosnia, where ethnic cleansing saw millions murdered, to that of Iraq. But China is not Iraq. It's not Grenada or Panama. Its 3.7 million square miles of territory makes it bigger than the US, and its 1.3 billion population is five times that of the US. Add to that a government and a huge military that do not give a damn about the US (remember Tiananmen Square?), and what you have is a country that Bush (or whoever sits in the White House) would do well to treat with kid gloves.
So when Bush ranted and raved upon hearing news of the capture of the spy plane, he was literally blowing hot air in the wind! Even as he demanded that China return both plane and crew immediately, Chinese President Jiang Zemin said his piece (nothing short of an apology from the US) and sauntered off on a previously planned tour of a number of countries in the West, starting with Chile. Last Friday he was singing "Guantamera" in Havana with Fidel Castro! In other words, to hell with Bush!
And he called Bush's bluff. Because both Bush and Colin Powell said they were sorry about the incident (but they did not apologise, eh! Ha! Ha!), the Chinese took their own good time before they sent the crew home (to a heroes' welcome, of course...captives are modern-day heroes!), and they will take better time stripping and examining the plane before returning it. China's stance in this confrontation is most reassuring, especially to Third World countries that are at the mercy of the US, which sees itself as the only superpower in the world.
Now it knows differently. Don't mess with China-unless you are prepared to wage all-out nuclear war, and even then you cannot be confident of winning. With 1.3 billion people, China can afford to lose a few hundred million in a war, and still win. No other nation on earth has that capacity. Bush got his nose bloodied for being so stupid. Want to bet he won't try that nonsense again?
Copyright © Raffique Shah