Kitty Hawk IV: Understand This!

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So apparently President Bush and the White House China experts who advise him misundersood the Chinese Foreign Minister, who actually did not say there was a “misunderstanding” over the Kitty Hawk visit. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said yesterday that “This kind of report does not conform to facts.” So, the White House was lying? Pretty serious accusation. Presumably, there’s a tape somewhere (pace to the ghost of Richard Nixon) that would settle this.

Liu then said that although relations between the two nations are good overall, “Beijing is not happy that U.S. leaders met in Washington recently with the Dalai Lama…. And he said Beijing is unhappy over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan….” Presumably this was to hint that the incident was in fact deliberate. All of which is fine if you are trying to make what happened look coherent and planned. But giving permission, withdrawing it and then granting it again is not coherent in the least and still smacks of a communications breakdown of a worrying kind inside China. For a comprehensive survey of all the possible permutations of this affair, see this by Willy Lam, writing at the Jamestown Foundation. Bottom line: this is kind of scary. As long-time China watcher Willy says:

The Kitty Hawk affair has cast doubt on China‚Äôs ability or sincerity to play the role of a responsible member of the international community………There are also indications that the PLA did not alert relevant Chinese government departments, let alone countries in the Asia-Pacific region, of the maneuvers.