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A Chinese Puzzle

Bizarre Collision Doesn't Look Good For Anyone

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 04, 2001.

As we enter the crucial KGNU Pledge Drive and Building Fund Season, I want to remind my fan and probation officer that after more than twenty years of being there for you both, the station which has, against all legal advice and common sense, allowed me on the air for nearly as long, needs you now. Whatever you can do, please do. Thanking you in advance.

The great China Spy Plane Crisis, or so we are instructed to view it, has sort of diverted attention away from what at first blush are some thumping mysteries. I don't think anyone ever believed that real spies would heroically take poison after blowing up their spy equipment, muttering "I regret I only have one life to give to Fox for a made for TV movie." Yet, somehow, I don't think anyone ever thought that they would request a landing at an airport of the spied-upon nation, either. If they were a spy plane, dark, dark shadows fall across the actions of the American pilot and crew, who requested assistance from the very nation they were allegedly spying upon. That strikes me as very weird.

We understand that a collision occurred between a clunky four-engine propeller-driven American military surveillance aircraft and a Chinese interceptor sent up to tail it. This is all common activity. The Americans say that the incident took place beyond the two hundred mile economic border most nations, like the US and China, claim. The Chinese claim all the South China Sea, somehow, so this item is in dispute.

How a supersonic aircraft managed to hit a slow and relatively unmaneuverable flying box is open to speculation. The US plane lost two propellers and had great damage. As such, being able to land the thing took great skill, as would have ditching the thing in deep waters where the Chinese would have no ability to retrieve it but the Americans would. Of course, that would have been dangerous and wet for the crew - if they survived - but somehow, isn't that part of their job? I speak as a long time coward, myself, but I am puzzled by the actions of the Americans, who handed the Chinese an open book to our top of the line technology, if the furrowed brows on television can be believed. I am also puzzled by the actions of the Chinese. Why, and how, would a plane of theirs un-deliberately hit the American plane? And, if the act was deliberate, why? given the location so far away from anything of note. Further, how come there was only one interceptor if the Chinese felt the Americans were doing something out of the ordinary and worthy of shootdown? And on top of that, why did the Chinese lose their plane and, apparently, their pilot? Why did the Americans not try for another locale than communist China to land the craft? Absolutely nobody credits the Chinese implication that the US plane is at fault; that it sought out and harassed the Chinese MIG, deliberately crashing their jet and killing the pilot.

It is always possible that this is nothing more than a thrill-seeking Chinese fighter pilot who tried to harass and impress the Americans and either freak downdrafts or a split second mistake forced the planes to contact. Such is the mentality of fighter pilots on both sides.
But if the Chinese deliberately tried to force the American plane to land, that was an act of war in the open ocean, if the Americans are right, or an aerial invasion of Chinese airspace to inflict harm on China. And you have to wonder why now, when China wants the Olympics and world trade benefits and, well, American cash, if this was a scheduled flight, and not something sent up to monitor a specific event. The media has been resolutely unhelpful in the direction they have taken, framing everything in their bovine template of Dubya's first foreign policy crisis. So, absent any more meaningful information, we are left with a dangerous incident that makes no sense at all, and nobody is asking the essential questions: was the plane in international airspace? Was the act deliberate or an actual accident? And if the Americans really were military spies, don't they know that you do not under any circumstances request clearance to land at the target's airfields? Haven't they just given the Chinese more valuable real world information than what physicists in Los Alamos did recently? They handed them the plane.