The Hu Na case -- some lessons to be learned

It is unfortunate that the United States and China have botched the Hu Na case. Relations between the two countries suffered a serious setback when Washington granted the 19-year-old tennis star political asylum and Peking overreacted to this. Lesson: Realism is sorely needed and self-interest should never again suffer from ideological and political maneuvering. Too much is at stake.

It is obvious that the US administration, acting through the Justice Department, granted Hu Na asylum to please its constituency - the pro-Taiwan right. And these people have skillfully made the case a big media event by playing on anticommunist senti-ments.

If a young tennis player for some reason does not want to return to China and wishes to stay in the US, let her stay. It would have been simple. The State Department claimed that it would have been inappropriate to try to work out some sort of arrangement for Hu Na to remain in the US other than granting her asylum. The contrary is true. It was illegal to grant her asylum, because she does not have a case.

She claimed that she was under pressure to join the Communist Party. This should only have elicited smiles. Anyone who is at all familiar with the way the Chinese system operates knows that the party in power does not force anyone to join. It would have been entirely legal and much better to, say, grant Hu Na a student visa, or even a period of grace, and extend it indefinitely.

China, on the other hand, got itself into such a position that it had to react strongly. True, it is difficult not to act tough - considering the reality of domestic and world politics. But statesmanship should mean national interests come before face. I will be accused for failing to understand Chinese - my own - culture as regards the importance of face. Unfortunately I know it only too well. And this should serve as a lesson not just for the Chinese, but the Americans as well: China is not to be slighted, bullied.

Americans have a very high opinion of themselves - a chosen people, wealthy and powerful and free. People like former National Security Adviser Richard Allen, whose special relationship with Taiwan is well known, argue that ''the Chinese need us more than we need them.'' It would be well for like-minded people to ponder why China broke with the Soviets. Precisely because the Big Brother behaved arrogantly and tried to meddle in China's internal affairs.

Irrationality on the part of an individual is, alas, too common. But it is appalling to see great nations behave like children. When will we grow up?

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