Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States will release data on the Navy’s successful shootdown of a stricken American reconnaissance satellite. “We are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can,” he noted in remarks to reporters. Gates’s offer came in response to comments from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “China is closely following the possible damage to the security of outer space and relevant countries by the U.S. move,” he stated. Liu, calling on the United States to “fulfill its international obligations in earnest,” stated that the Pentagon should “provide necessary information and relevant data to the international community promptly.”
Liu’s request—more like a demand—came in conjunction with sharp comments carried by People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship paper, and unwarranted attacks from Beijing’s surrogates in the Chinese academic community. The harsh reaction orchestrated by China’s leaders raises a simple question: Why is Gates agreeing to release any information at all?
The defense secretary, of course, will not provide much, if anything, of technical value, but this is not an issue of supplying classified material to a potential adversary. The issue is the way we are interacting with China. The Chinese, for no good reason, threw a tantrum about this week’s shootdown. So how did we react? We tried to placate them with technical data.
For years we have given Chinese generals and admirals military information in the hopes they would respond in kind. They have almost always failed to do so. For instance, despite repeated requests, they still have not said anything to us about their destruction, with a ground-launched missile, of an old weather satellite in January of last year.
This week, both before and after we shot down our satellite, the Chinese hurled belligerent comments in our direction. Yet we reacted as if they were our long-time partners. They will not even agree to install a phone link connecting our military with theirs, despite our attempts spanning years to put one in place. What kind of “friends” are they?
By rewarding unfriendly conduct, we are encouraging the very behavior we wish to forestall. What Gates should have done yesterday is told the Chinese that we will cooperate with them only if they cooperate with us. It’s time we require reciprocity in our dealings with China. You don’t need a degree in International Relations to come to this conclusion. All you need is common sense.