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Chinese generals call for tougher U.S. policy

China Mao
China's generals want a return to a Mao-style U.S. policy  

BEIJING, China -- A number of retired Chinese generals are calling on the government in Beijing to restore chairman Mao Zedong's tough tactics against the United States.

A source close to the People's Liberation Army said President Jiang Zemin might opt for a harder line on the U.S. given the pressure that military hawks had exerted on him.

The source said retired PLA elders including generals Liu Huaqing and Hong Xuezhi had faulted Jiang's "weak" reaction to the spy plane incident and arms sales to Taiwan.

"Jiang lacks Mao's boldness and his ability to stand up to the Americans," one general reportedly said.

He cited the fact that Mao was wearing pajamas when he received the delegation led by then U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s.

"Mao was so sure of himself he made the Americans look like schoolboys," the general added.

A veteran of the Korean War said Beijing leaders from the 1950s to the 1970s were better at asserting China's national interests in the face of a much stronger American threat.

"At the time of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the American arsenal was much more superior than that of China," the retired general said.

"In the past decade, the military gap between China and the U.S. has narrowed. Yet our U.S. policy is much more timid than before."

Aside from retired generals, quite a few party elders have also faulted Jiang's handling of U.S. policy.

A Guangdong province-based party elder said he had received many telephone calls from party cadres expressing indignation at Jiang's decision to let the 24 crewmembers of a U.S. spy plane crippled by the midair collision with a Chinese fighter jet go home.

The elder cited a remark made by Jiang a few days after the collision of the Chinese and American aircraft: "If two people were to bump into each other, it is natural for them to say 'excuse me' or 'pardon'."

The elder said many of his friends and former underlings thought Jiang had understated the seriousness of the spy plane incident as well as Washington's "anti-China containment policy."

Sources close to the Jiang camp said the president and aides such as Vice Premier Qian Qichen were able to parry the criticism of the elders.

For example, none of the hawkish statements of the retired generals made it to the official media.

The sources said, however, Jiang was personally hurt by President George W. Bush's unexpectedly hostile speech immediately after the 24 crew members had returned to Hawaii.

"We treated them [the Americans] with respect but now they're doing this to us," the sources quoted a senior Jiang adviser as saying.

"Bush is an ill-mannered Texas cowboy who has to be taught a lesson," the adviser said.

Diplomats in Beijing and Washington expected more friction in bilateral ties in the coming several weeks.

For example, Bush made clear on Tuesday that Washington would re-deploy spy planes close to the Chinese coast.

Former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui is due to visit New York State next week. And about 100 members of the U.S. congress have expressed support for Taiwan attending a couple of United Nations meetings as observers.

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