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Copyright 2001 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

April 15, 2001

HEADLINE:Taming the Dragon


For a man whose lack of foreign policy credentials had aroused widespread concern and even derision during the US presidential campaign, George W. Bush's handling of the dispute with China over a downed US surveillance plane should go a long way toward silencing his critics. Shrewdly wielding the tools of diplomacy, Bush succeeded in transforming what appeared initially to be an irreconcilable stalemate into a rapidly concluded and peaceful outcome, one that saw the quick return home of the 24 American servicemen.

He walked a fine line between satisfying the Chinese demand for an apology, even though it appears that the Chinese pilot was responsible for the collision over international waters, and preserving America's dignity and self-respect. It was a textbook case of maintaining fidelity to principles while demonstrating flexibility and good judgment, ...

But for all its insistence on national pride during the recent standoff with the United States, China remains an unrepentant Communist dictatorship. Twelve years may have passed since the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, in which the People's Liberation Army acted like a liquidation force in slaughtering pro-democracy demonstrators, but the men behind the massacre remain in power. China's citizens enjoy a more open and competitive marketplace than they did just a decade ago, but they are still denied the most basic of democratic rights the right to change one's government through free and fair elections. The Chinese Communist Party's experiment with capitalism is a result of compulsion, not conviction, for they realize that to retain their grip on political power they had no choice but to loosen the reins of control on economic power... Indeed, the West, headed by the United States, must continue to remain vigilant with regard to China, welcoming its steps toward greater openness while continuing to insist on increased respect for human rights and the rule of law...

In these turbulent times, when Israel's policymakers have their hands full with other issues, it is imperative that the most important lesson for Israel in the US-Chinese airplane incident not be allowed to get lost in the shuffle: namely, that America's single-minded determination to bring home its soldiers stands in contrast with Israel's MIAs and POWs. Though just a few months have passed since Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, Omar Suwayed, and Elhanan Tanenbaum were taken captive by Hizbullah, the lack of a massive public outcry is astonishing. The same holds true regarding the fate of the three soldiers still missing from the Lebanon War - Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman - and IAF navigator Ron Arad. With the passage of time, it is easy to forget the trauma and uncertainty that the captives' families are forced to endure. Another Pessah has come and gone, and little is known of their fate. One can only hope that behind the scenes, Israel is doing whatever it can to bring its boys home as quickly as possible. Every lead must be pursued, and every effort must be made to ensure that by next year, the Festival of Freedom will have taken on a new, highly personal meaning for them and their families.

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