The U.S.-China Impasse: Who You Gonna Call?

The United States needs to deceive the Chinese into thinking it is genuinely sorry that its EP-3 spy plane was snooping on China from what was apparently international airspace. At first, Chatterbox hoped that the situation could be resolved the way journalists typically pacify irate but in-the-wrong people they’ve written about: that is, with a pseudoapology. To help Dubya out, Chatterbox quizzed various journalists about their preferred techniques for soothing screamers without giving an inch. (The most entertaining of these was William F. Buckley’s “Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi,” which manages to sound inscrutable and wise but is actually dismissive to the point of insult. It means, “What is permitted to Jove is not permitted to swine.” For an idiot’s guide to other Latin maxims, click here.)

Now, however, with 24 Navy aviators still detained on Hainan Island, Chatterbox is starting to wonder whether a pseudoapology will be adequate. It may be that we now need an actual fib–a sincere-sounding promise that we have no intention of fulfilling and on which we will renege the moment the Americans return to U.S. soil. Fortunately, we have on hand someone who is a proven master at just this sort of diplomacy. Chatterbox is speaking, of course, of William Jefferson Clinton.

As it happens, Clinton is already, globally speaking, in the neighborhood. He’s in India, being showered with flower petals and garlands by teeming mobs. He’ll be in New Delhi tomorrow, and, should Dubya appoint him as his special envoy, Clinton can easily take a side trip to Beijing. Chatterbox imagines Clinton making a pitch that goes something like this: “The days of mutual mistrust are over. We have entered a new era of cooperation where two great nations move forward together and not apart. We are deeply, deeply sorry for what we have done.” If that doesn’t work, he can take it to the next level by wagging his index finger and pledging, “We will not spy on China ever again, so help me God.” Perhaps he could bite his lip and express deep gratitude for the overwhelming generosity the Chinese people showed him during his 1996 re-election campaign. “I will never forget that,” he could say, “never. And neither will sailors and airmen of the U.S. Navy, with whom I remain as close as ever.” Then he can present Chinese President Jiang Zemin with an autographed copy of Leaves of Grass.