Chinese Standoff Off
With the resolution of the spy plane crisis, the international press was quick to pass judgment. Britain's Independent declared that President Bush acquitted himself well: "He has been patient, allowing hardliners to rattle the sabres. He seems to understand that tactical concessions can be a sign of wisdom, not weakness, and that in a fraught stand-off, it is vital to allow your opponent a means of saving face." The paper also noted that the crisis brought tangible benefits to China: "It has had a fortnight to unpick the secrets of some of America's most sophisticated espionage technology, and, in the lost pilot of the Chinese F-8 jet, it has found a new member of the pantheon of Communist heroes and defenders of the motherland." Spain's El País claimed, "Beijing has symbolically held the world's superpower in check and has taken its revenge for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War."
In an editorial written before the crisis was resolved, Le Monde of Paris noted the contrast between Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is nearing the end of career and is keen to ensure a smooth transition, and President Bush, who is at the start of his term and has to assert himself on the international scene: "One side mustn't lose face, the other has to present a high profile." Popular Chinese reaction to the crisis led many papers to conclude that nationalism is on the rise. The Irish Times observed: "In China genuine feelings of outrage over US assertiveness and hegemony were quite clearly a factor. It is a salutary reminder that Chinese public opinion exists independently of its state-controlled political system." The official China Daily welcomed the diplomatic solution but blamed the United States for the standoff:
The difficulty of squeezing an expression of repentance from the US Government for its apparent wrong-doing in this case shows the magnitude of the US hegemony that is poisoning relations with many other countries besides China. China is not the sole country that has fallen victim to the United States' signature double standards in handling international relations.
Several papers predicted that the events of the last two weeks are an indicator of looming U.S.-China tensions, especially with the United States currently pondering weapons sales to Taiwan. The Financial Times observed, "China and America are now more inclined to view each other as adversaries. And there is no shortage of potential flashpoints." Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said that if relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate, "Washington would find itself being sucked more and more into the region, while China would find itself diverted from its economic modernisation programme. Hopefully as a result of this crisis both countries will see the dangers of taking their differences too far and will now concentrate on finding ways to manage their relationship." The Hong Kong iMail offered concrete advice for improved relations:
The chances of another incident, given how close the planes fly to each other, should not be ignored. As has already been shown, such activities can be very dangerous. Such flying tactics should stop. Both sides should learn the lessons this incident has provided, and work together to improve relations.
Hainan jinks: Hainan Island, where the U.S. spy plane landed, is "a paradise for dirty old men," claimed a piece in the South China Morning Post. The island, which became a province and Special Economic Zone 13 years ago on Friday, has a reputation as a smugglers' paradise—in the mid-1980s Hainan exploited its SEZ privileges to import thousands of cars from Japan duty-free and then smuggled them to the mainland for huge profits. In the 1990s, a spectacular property crash in Hainan led to the first bank failure in post-revolution China. Now it is billed as China's Hawaii, but according to the SCMP, "tourism … is a euphemism for prostitution." It concluded:
Watching a tipsy, overweight businessman and a woman decades younger than him thread their way through a pack of about 125 journalists covering a major international incident is slightly amusing. But it is mostly pathetic and for the young women who flock to Hainan from all over China because prostitution is the only alternative to a life of drudgery a tragic indictment of how unevenly the benefits arising from China's economic reforms have been spread.
Workers of the world log on: The International Herald Tribune reported Wednesday that the Communist Party of Vietnam has unveiled its new Web site. Visitors to www.cpv.org.vn will find 55,000 pages of information—in English and Vietnamese—ranging from the writings of Ho Chi Minh, Marx, and Lenin to fraternal greetings to the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. The window to the world only goes one way, however; according to the IHT, "the party continues to severely restrict access to the Internet and operates firewalls to sites it opposes for moral and political reasons, such as those of the outlawed emigré opposition."
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.