This incident has triggered a crisis in Sino-American relations. But hopefully when our service men are back it may do even more--that is, by triggering a re-examination of the moral assumptions that underlie America's policies toward China.
The Chinese government's actions have been reprehensible. Our reconnaissance aircraft made an emergency landing, which every civilized nation respects the right of a disabled aircraft to do, but the Chinese immediately arrested the U.S. crew, holding them and the plane since last Sunday.
The verbal sparring continues between Washington and Beijing. Chinese officials have given no assurance of when the plane and crew will be returned, but have demanded an apology from the United States. Colin Powell has expressed regret that the Chinese pilot whose plane collided with ours was killed, but beyond that neither the Secretary of State nor the President are in an apologetic mood. Nor should they be.
But the issue here, it seems to me, is that things like this weren't supposed to happen. At least, that's what we were told by the people who fought for Most Favored Nation trading status and membership in the WTO for China. They said the key to changing China's conduct was engagement, not confrontation. If we want China to stop threatening her neighbors and persecuting her people--including millions of Christians--trade and investment would work better than holding China accountable--or so they said.
Well, now we know they were wrong. China's behavior has, if anything, only gotten worse with all this making nice. What the appeasement model didn't take into account was the reality of evil and the need to restrain it.
Admittedly, a word like "evil," in this context is jarring--just as it was when President Reagan used it to describe the former Soviet Union. But what else is there to describe a government that practices forced abortion and sterilization, employs slave labor, and imprisons and kills men and women for preaching the gospel? What would you call a government that invades one neighbor and threatens another with invasion?
God has ordained the state to restrain evil. In fact, force is the legitimate means biblically to keep the strong and ruthless from preying on the weak.
This reasoning goes beyond maintaining public order. It underlies the Augustinian formulation of a just war, and validates the use of force when one group preys upon another. In a fallen world, evil must be opposed by force. Now I'm not suggesting the use of military force here--that's only one application of force. But I am suggesting that we should use the moral authority of the United States, our economic power, and sanctions on aid in such a way as to demand civilized behavior by other nations. You cannot appease evil, you can only resist it.
The lesson here is that an understanding of good and evil--not trade and investment--is the real starting point for future relations with China.