An Apology to China Is Long Overdue

The gang whipping up war hysteria against China suffers under a number of delusions about the plane collision over the South China sea. The main one is their cock-sure conviction that the crash was an aggression by the Chinese pilot against an innocent American plane, and hence the US should not only refuse to apologize but also exact retribution.

Three days after the crash, however, MSNBC (April 4, 2001) reported that "new details" were now available concerning precisely how the crash occurred. The "US aircraft executed a banking maneuver off to the left," which caused a close-flying Chinese jet to crash. These facts were provided by US officials on background, and, as the news report said, it helps "explain the rationale behind Chinese assertions that the American plane moved ‘suddenly’ and thereby triggered the accident."

Translation: China is right that this crash was the fault of the US. The story further noted that this information was not being announced publicly. In short, we can infer from the story that the US government told lies about a death it caused, and is refusing to admit it — just as the same government did at Ruby Ridge, Waco, Belgrade, and a thousand other cases.

Now the Pentagon says that the plane was on autopilot, but the report still doesn’t exclude the possibility that the plane was manually turned to spook the Chinese jet on its third pass close to the plane. Now, perhaps the US has definitive evidence that the Chinese are wrong and that the jet hit the US plane. If so, it should release it. It certainly hasn’t so far.

Also instructive is the behavior of the other Chinese jet. When its pilot saw what happened to his partner, he radioed Beijing for permission to shoot down the US plane. This response is consistent with the claim that the US banked left: he saw his partner hit and regarded US behavior as an act of war. Had it been his partner’s fault, his first response would have been to get the heck out of Dodge. In any case, he was refused permission to shoot, thus illustrating how restrained China has been in this case, far more so than the US would have been if the roles were reversed.

Aside from the details of who did what to whom, consider the broader picture. The US claims it was over international waters. Reports vary on precisely where the US was flying, but we do know that it was inside the 200-mile limit that the US claims for itself. Within this same mile limit, but outside a 12-mile limit, China regards appropriate air traffic as commercial and not military. By presuming to fly so close to land with a spy plane, the US is guilty, at minimum, of inhospitable behavior. There is no right to spy.

To understand the Chinese position further, imagine this scenario. You and your family are casually eating dinner when you notice some guy with a listening device in the alley. He is listening in on your conversation! You run out the back door and into the alley, which is technically public property, and you demand to know what the heck is going on. He regards your action as hostile and slams you into the wall, and you die.

Who is at fault here? Well, your wife would reasonably point out that the snooper in the alley is at fault, for it is he who was harassing your family with listening devices inside the confines of your own home. At minimum she demands an apology. And what if the snooper protested that, hey, this is a public alley? What’s more, he says, this was just "routine" surveillance, and the real problem is the man had attempted to stop him from doing his job of listening in on the dinner conversation.

There is no judge in this country who would side with the snooper (the US) as opposed to the home owner (China). The US behaved nastily, with a disregard for the territorial sovereignty of China and the lives of young men serving in its military.

It’s long past time to bite the bullet: the US needs to apologize to the Chinese. The pilot Wang Wei, husband and father and patriot, died protecting his country against a foreign spy plane stealing military secrets from within Chinese commercial airspace. This was an imperial adventure the US had no business undertaking. Again, there is no right to crowd commercial airspace with nefarious eavesdropping adventures.

And this crowding, spying, and aggressing takes place within the context of a much broader problem: the perception that the US doesn’t care a fig for Chinese lives and property. This perception is reinforced in our trade policy (not a day goes by when some protectionist doesn’t call for sanctions), US policy on human rights (China’s every violation is denounced even as the US won’t admit any wrongdoing in Yugoslavia, Iraq, or, for that matter, Waco), and the unending and unproven claims that China is using Chinese-Americans in government as spies.

Example: when the US bombed the Chinese embassy two years ago and killed Chinese journalists, you might expect that the first thing on the mind of the US government would be penance and propitiation. Instead, it issued a lame excuse (the maps were old), claimed it was an accident (probably not), and then demanded that all protests in China cease immediately. The cinders on the bombed building were still hot and US lawmakers were threatening China for complaining too much!

Even our language reflects an absurd, intractable, and ultimately dangerous anti-Sinoism. We routinely refer to "Red China" or "Communist China" as if the place were still being run top-down by Mao. For pointing out that China may not be at fault in this air fiasco, I’ve been called a communist agent more times than I can count.

But look at the facts. China has stock markets, lower taxes than the US, private homes, private schools, and private business centers the size and scale of Houston. Beijing alone has 89 McDonalds restaurants. And notice all the fabulous products routinely used in the US that are made in China. This is no communist country. China is an authoritarian state that is becoming ever freer, year by year. We should be encouraging this trend through peace, trade, and mutual friendship, not whipping up war.

With its belligerent behavior on the high seas, the US has broken the deal. But there is an easy way out of this predicament. Apologize. It may be hard to do, but it is the right thing to do. If China succeeds in extracting that from the US, it will have done a service to the cause of liberty, giving to each American what we might not otherwise hear in our lifetimes: an official admission that our government is not infallible.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site,

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