Wilmington News Journal, April 11, 2001
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By SEAN OSULLIVAN, 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 Theyll be forced to, like it or not." 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 UDs 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 Times 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 worlds 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 said. Americans are used to blunt talk and fast action to resolve a problem. But to the Chinese, this attitude played as arrogant, impatient and insensitive. 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, Chinas leaders and citizens remain sensitive to perceived slights because of that nations long history of humiliation at the hands of foreign nations. Thus its demand for an apology, he said. The letter that finally resolved the dispute was "a classic example lost 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 longer." 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 cant 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 reform. FlorCruz, while saying he was optimistic about the future, also warned that good relations with China are not a certainty. Citing the nations 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 OSullivan at 324-2777 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.