An analysis of communication variables related to the 2001 emergency landing on Hainan Island, China by a U.S. surveillance plane.

Author:Schnell, Jim
 
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ABSTRACT

This article addresses how the communication variable of diplomacy was effectively used, as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, to diffuse the controversy related to a U.S. surveillance plane landing on Hainan Island, China in April, 2001 after it had collided with a Chinese fighter jet in international airspace. Rhetorical strategies of the United States and China will be described. This situation is relevant in that it exemplifies how diplomacy can be used to resolve a scenario that could have easily escalated into a significant confrontation on the military, political and/or economic levels. It offers lessons for understanding past, present and future controversies between the U.S. and China.

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On April 1, 2001, during a routine surveillance flight in international airspace 100 km off the coast of China, a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II plane collided with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet. The Chinese jet crashed into the South China Sea killing the pilot and the U.S. plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, China. The 24 crew members were ordered off the plane and held incommunicado. Thus began an 11 day standoff, that significantly tested the substance of U.S.-China relations, regarding when and how the crew and aircraft would be returned.

This article will describe how the communication variable of diplomacy was effectively used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy to diffuse the situation. Cross-cultural rhetorical strategies of both sides will be addressed. This situation is relevant in that it exemplifies how diplomacy can be used to resolve a scenario that could have easily escalated into a significant confrontation on the military, political and/or economic levels. The exchange of words effectively replaced bullets, threats and embargoes.

In A National Security Strategy for a New Century (1997: 1-15) the White House describes tools the U.S. can use to mold the international environment in ways that enhance U.S. interests and global peace. Such tools include diplomacy, international assistance, arms control, nonproliferation initiatives, and military activities. Raach and Kass (1995: 8) build on this premise by explaining, "American strategic culture holds that military force is a last resort. As a people, we are not entirely comfortable with using force until other instruments of national power--economic, diplomatic, political and informational--have been wielded."

The concept of diplomacy has developed significantly since World War II and the implications of diplomacy have become especially relevant since the end of the Cold War and evolution of the new world order. The impact of the mass media on these processes has become more pronounced due to the instantaneous nature of global interaction. "The study of foreign policy requires looking at its two interactive dimensions, the content of policy and the policy process. Each has changed, and has caused the need for change in the other" (Snow and Brown 1997: 6). The case of the U.S. plane making an emergency landing on Hainan Island exemplifies such a situation.

This rhetorical phenomenon will be addressed by focusing on relevant rhetorical events in chronological order. Chinese President Jiang Zemin laid the groundwork for the Chinese position on the collision by demanding, "the U.S. accept full responsibility for the collision ... and halt surveillance flights near China's coast." The Chinese foreign ministry added to this by saying the plane "rammed a Chinese plane in the air space above the sea near China, then entered Chinese air space without China's permission and landed on a Chinese airport." The U.S. indicated, "the collision was an accident and the plane was on a routine mission in international air space" ("Jiang Blames U.S" 2001). The following day, given the significantly different views of the collision, Mike Chinoy (CNN Senior Asia Correspondent) reported, "The diplomats are going to have to figure out a formula here" ("Mike Chinory: Standoff Exposes" 2001).

Thus, the stage was set necessitating the need for diplomatic dialog to deflate the situation...

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