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Professor Fei-Ling Wang: Chinese react online to spy plane incident

For the past eight years, Fei-Ling Wang has been an associate professor of international affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before coming to Georgia Tech, he was a lecturer in international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN, Professor Fei-Ling Wang.

Fei-Ling Wang: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the chat room. I'm glad to be here to answer some questions and to chat with you.

CNN Moderator: What are people saying on China's websites regarding the spy plane incident?

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    Fei-Ling Wang: As in any other website, the Chinese websites now have demonstrated a great variety of opinions. There are some very radical extreme views, some very thoughtful moderate views. However, the overwhelmingly majority of opinions expressed on the Chinese websites seem to be asking for the Chinese government to be "tough and strong and not bow to U.S. pressure too early." Also, they seem to be asking for the United States to take responsibility and make apologies for the loss of the Chinese pilot and warplane. That seems to be the majority view we can see right now.

    From the chat room: Do the Chinese really believe the U.S. is responsible and why?

    Fei-Ling Wang: Unfortunately, there seems to be a big gap of perception between Chinese and Americans on this issue right now. Most Chinese writers on the websites seem to believe the U.S. is responsible for the whole incident. They even believe that the U.S. deliberately slammed and crashed the Chinese warplane. Whether that's true or not, we really don't know, but the popular opinion expressed on the Chinese websites clearly believes that. Of course, this is quite different from what we believe here in the U.S.

    From the chat room: From what you've seen, do many Chinese sympathize with the American crew's situation?

    Fei-Ling Wang: Unfortunately, no. Most Americans are concerned about the safety of the crew and want them to come home early. The predominant Chinese view, as we can gather right now, seems to be suggesting that the American crew is responsible for the incident. Many Chinese believe that in order to complete the investigation, the crew should stay in China for a while. In addition, many Chinese also seem to be wanting the U.S. government to make some apologies on behalf of the crew.

    It seems to me that this kind of demand may not be very American in terms of our culture, which is very legalistic. An apology usually means some legal liability and responsibility. In contrast, apologies usually mean something quite different in East Asian culture. For example, recently, a Japanese fishing boat which was sunk by an American submarine near Hawaii. The families of victims wanted primarily a personal apology from the U.S. government and from the captain of that submarine. The captain basically refused to do that simply because his lawyer advised him not to because of concern about legal consequences. But for the Japanese, the apology seems to be very, very important. We may be seeing some similarity between the Japanese and Chinese cultures; again, they are not necessarily as legalistic as we are.

    From the chat room: I don't think the U.S. can afford to apologize to the Chinese. I think that sets the crew up for a trial. What do you think?

    Fei-Ling Wang: That's a very legitimate concern. Personally, I don't think the U.S. government can make an official apology simply because that would imply that the routine reconnaissance flight was illegal or wrong, and that would not be in the U.S. interest. We need to maintain this kind of operation; on the other hand, an apology in China may not necessarily mean an admission of guilt. I don't think an apology or something like that would necessarily be used as evidence to prosecute our servicemen and women.

    From the chat room: Is there a new cold war in both nationsí future?

    Fei-Ling Wang: It is always a possibility, and thatís a deep concern shared by many who are studying international relations in East Asia. We certainly should try to prevent that possibility from happening; yet there are worrying signs. In both China and the U.S., there are people who are interested in promoting a new Cold War, or even a Hot War. Fortunately, those groups are still a minority, but if we don't handle the main issues between the two countries well, then such Cold War groups may gain more influence down the road. This particular airplane incident may prove to be just a bizarre, dramatic, but small incident.

    The main issues are still there, among which Taiwan seems to be the key. Also, we have these complaints about Chinaís human rights record. However, let's not lose our sight over this small issue. I hope Beijing and Washington can work out some kind of deal that is acceptable to both governments, and move beyond this to work on the main issues so that we can prevent a Cold War from happening.

    From the chat room: Couldn't the escalation of the Hainan incident be attributed to the different negotiation strategies, which are based on culture and value systems? How can we resolve this?

    Fei-Ling Wang: I think the governments on both sides are now under tremendous pressure from the public. The new administration in Washington needs to "do it right" and to project the image of being strong. The government in Beijing may be under even greater pressure to be stand up to America. The cultural differences are important in explaining the different understanding of terms such as apology, but the fundamental issue here is whether the leadership on both sides can handle public pressure right and make a good compromise.

    Beijing needs something that will allow it to step down gracefully. If it is not a full, official apology from the American government, it has to be some words or gesture from Washington that leaders in Beijing can show to their people demonstrating that the Chinese pilot and warplane are not lost without a reason. Most Americans are naturally interested in seeing our servicemen and women return home, but we should not forget that one Chinese serviceman is presumably dead. We should think of their angle a little to appreciate the pressure the Chinese leaders are under right now. I think a quiet diplomacy offering something that allows the Chinese leaders to step down is going to be essentially. Colin Powell's speech this afternoon, in which he expressed regret for loss of Chinese life in this incident, is probably a good start.

    From the chat room: China wants to increase its global stature and to gain more acceptance and legitimacy in international affairs. They are especially eager to host the Olympics. Don't Chinese officials think it might be in their long-term international interests to be less aggressive in this situation?

    Fei-Ling Wang: Absolutely. As I suggested earlier, the government in Beijing seems to be trying very hard to keep this under control. The top leader, Jiang Zemin actually left for a prescheduled trip to Latin America today, and there has not been any mob scene in Beijing such as the one in 1999 after the Chinese embassy was bombed in the former Yugoslavia. The only demonstration against the U.S. has been seen in Hong Kong, not China. That shows the Chinese government realizes this situation must be put under control. What they need is something they can use to explain their patience to the Chinese people, and since the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a nonbinding resolution opposing Chinese bid for Olympics in 2008, I guess the Chinese figure this American gesture is already made anyway.

    From the chat room: Isn't this really about America's support of Taiwan?

    Fei-Ling Wang: No. This particular issue probably does not have much direct link to the Taiwan issue, but the fallout, the consequence of this incident, may affect the U.S. decision on the sensitive sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan. If that happens, it's unfortunate; the U.S. should make its decision on weapon sales based on U. S. interest. We should try very hard to fend off unnecessary emotional issues here. The weapon sales to Taiwan is a very important consequential issue that has to be considered in a much bigger context, not being affected by this particular bizarre incident. The U.S. must seriously consider how to deal with Taiwan, indeed, but I do not see this particular incident as related to Taiwan.

    From the chat room: Are the Chinese people being bombarded with media at home regarding this issue, or is the media staying quiet?

    Fei-Ling Wang: The Chinese official media has been rather controlled for many, many years, and their reporting on this particular issue has been rather limited. Many people who are posting on websites, for example, have been gathering their information about the incident from foreign media via Internet. So, there have been some radical criticisms against the Chinese government for trying to control this incident. In China, alternatives to the official media are not readily available. Most Chinese probably are indeed getting their news from official sources, but the Internet, among other things, has provided the possibility for the Chinese to access foreign media. There are an estimated 30 million Chinese web users, and the growth rate is very high. The Chinese Internet population doubles every year. Those people are usually well educated, sort of a Chinese elite or elite-to-be, so I would say the Chinese government control of information is being eroded as we speak.

    CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Professor Fei-Ling Wang.

    Fei-Ling Wang: It's a pleasure. I thank everyone for joining us. I hope we'll all pay attention to this incident, and I hope our government in Washington will deal with it appropriately.

    Professor Fei-ling Wang joined the CNN chat room from Atlanta, GA.; CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat which occurred on Wednesday, April 4, at 5 p.m. EDT.

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