Wilmington News Journal, April 11, 2001
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Standoff may help, China expert says

Nations will be forced to work together

By SEAN O‚SULLIVAN, Staff reporter

The standoff over a downed U.S. spy plane in China may lead to better
relations between the two nations, according to China expert Jamie FlorCruz,
just as the Cuban missile crisis ultimately led to a more stable
relationship with the Soviet Union,

The former Beijing bureau chief of Time magazine, speaking at the University
of Delaware on Thursday, said he expects the two nations will use upcoming
meetings to "work out rules of engagement and etiquette like the U.S. did
with the Soviets during the cold war They‚ll be forced to, like it or

He said the incident is a good example of why there needs to be more direct
contact between the two nations, not less.

And while there still might be heated rhetoric on both sides, FlorCruz said
he is optimistic about the future.

In the end, both nations set aside their emotions and proved themselves
pragmatic in resolving the crisis, he said.

FlorCruz, who now lives in New Jersey, spoke to an audience of more than 300
as part of UD‚s ongoing "Global Agenda 2001" lecture series, organized by
Ralph Begleiter, the former CNN correspondent who now teaches at UD.

FlorCruz, who lived in China for 30 years and was Time‚s Beijing bureau
chief for 10 years, said the standoff with China was a problem waiting to
happen that was quickly magnified by cultural differences.

The United States, maintaining its status as the world‚s only superpower,
had significantly increased its surveillance flights near China, according
to published reports, said FlorCruz.

This angered China, he said, a nation on the rise in the world and intent on
establishing its position in the South China Sea.

Once the collision of planes happened, a collision of cultures followed, he

Americans are used to blunt talk and fast action to resolve a problem.

But to the Chinese, this attitude played as arrogant, impatient and

China lost a pilot and jet fighter in the crash, and the first reaction from
the U.S. was "Give us our plane back," he said.

Also, China‚s leaders and citizens remain sensitive to perceived slights
because of that nation‚s long history of humiliation at the hands of foreign

Thus its demand for an apology, he said.

The letter that finally resolved the dispute was "a classic example Œlost in
translation‚ and that is the brilliance of it," he said.

"It is a game," he said, "The Chinese put their spin on it. The U.S. put its
own spin on it."

FlorCruz said it was fortunate that the negotiations over the wording of the
letter were only for the English version of the letter. "If the negotiations
had included the Chinese, it would have become more difficult and much

Ultimately, the term "very sorry" was translated favorably by the Chinese as
the apology they were seeking.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, maintained they never admitted fault.

FlorCruz said the cultural divide is also why the United States‚ calls for
human rights do not play well in China.

Conditions have improved dramatically in China over the past 30 years. It is
no longer the monolithic, totalitarian "Red China" of the 1970s, he said.

"Most Chinese no longer feel oppressed," he said. The reaction of the
average Chinese to a question about human rights is, "I can‚t eat human
rights. Can you?"

FlorCruz said there is still a problem with human rights in China, but
Americans see "a glass half-empty, where they look at it as half-full."

Many Chinese remember when the glass was completely empty, he said.

FlorCruz said the improvements in China, however, may lead to a crisis.

China is now a nation without tight central control, a powerful charismatic
leader or unifying philosophy. "China could one day implode," he said,
making it important that the U.S. remain engaged to help foster ongoing

FlorCruz, while saying he was optimistic about the future, also warned that
good relations with China are not a certainty.

Citing the nation‚s sensitivity, FlorCruz said, "China will be an enemy if
that is what we depict them as. It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Reach Sean O‚Sullivan at 324-2777 or at sosullivan@delawareonline.com.