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Jewish World Review April 19, 2001 / 26 Nissan, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Establishing "hegemony" over the entire globe -- IN a recent phone conversation, Mario Cuomo went out of his way to salute what he calls the "sweet strength" of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

I believe that "sweet strength," displayed so intelligently last week, is the great victor of the Hainan Island incident. We need to show more of it if we are to avoid a far greater crisis in the Far East down the road.

To begin with, how about seeing the world's largest nation as our "strategic partner?" That was President Clinton's phrase. It was the wording President Bush himself used recently before catching himself and resorting to that awful hard-liners' term: "strategic competitor."

Doesn't the successful return of our 24 crewmen from Hainan Island argue for a return to the more positive brand of Washington-Beijing diplomacy? We tried the hard line and learned its limitations.

First we landed our plane on Chinese territory without permission. Second, we demanded the crew and plane's prompt return. We treated the life of a courageous if reckless Chinese pilot as unworthy of note, a proud country's territorial integrity unworthy of respect.

Fortunately for all, we corrected our course before an "incident" became a full-blown international crisis. We found the right language to express sorrow for the "missing pilot and aircraft," admitted the desperate landing of a "severely crippled aircraft" in Chinese territory without "verbal clearance."

There's a plus-side. In learning to use the right language, America gained a potent and timely lesson in Chinese attitudes. The government and people of that great land believe that the United States seeks to establish "hegemony" over the entire globe.

Are they right? Let's take the continents one at a time.

Europe? You got to believe it! Nothing bothers policy-makers here more than the thought that the old continent might actually build a peacekeeping force that doesn't require our membership.

North and South America? The Monroe Doctrine is 19th century American English for "hegemony" in this hemisphere.

The Mideast? The Persian Gulf? We're the boss.

Africa? Only when we think about it.

Asia? The presence of our 7th Fleet in the South China Sea, the constant reconnaissance of the Chinese coastline, the prospect of advanced arm sales to Taiwan? If you were a pro-democracy student in Beijing, wouldn't you take this as evidence that the United States wants to dominate the other side of the planet?

Add to this the recent word from the Pentagon that the United States has shifted its strategy from fighting a war in Europe to fighting one in Asia. What country do you - or the Chinese - think we're talking about?

Let's not miss the lesson we learned these past two weeks. We tried the tough talk. It got us nowhere. Then we tried diplomacy, the linguistic and cultural expertise of the State Department, plus what the former Democratic governor of New York calls Secretary Powell's "sweet strength."

Let's go with what worked.

If we're smart as well as strong, we can be strong in Asia without turning the U.S.-Chinese relationship sour.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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