It looks as though we’ve won. Officials inside and outside the Bush administration are hailing China’s positive response to our carefully crafted letter of regret as validation of the President’s “quiet diplomacy.” The truth, however, is quite different.

The moral issue in the U.S.-China crisis is being widely ignored. There should be no mistake about the ultimate responsibility for the collision between the American reconnaissance plane and the Chinese jet fighter. China is the guilty party. The fact that China poses a military danger to America is what makes our surveillance missions necessary. It is China’s status as a potential aggressor that created the perilous situation in the first place. That the Chinese jet was flying so dangerously close to our plane only underscores China’s culpability. It is Beijing that should be conveying “sincere regret” to the family of the lost Chinese pilot.

Instead, it is Washington that is saying “sorry,” while praising “China’s efforts to see to the well-being of our crew.” Our pathetic reaction to this crisis demonstrates that Bill Clinton’s legacy to President Bush includes more than a foreign policy of accommodation. Bush has absorbed the deepest Clinton legacy: the willingness to pervert language in order to hide from the truth.

While the aircraft’s crew languished in Chinese custody, Bush tried to concoct some language that would communicate an apology that doesn’t apologize, one that would placate China without letting Americans know the obvious–that we have another appeaser in the White House.

The linguistic dance goes beyond this pseudo-apology. Bush supposedly rejected Clinton’s description of China as a “strategic partner,” preferring the term “strategic competitor.” But if “partner” is inappropriate, “competitor” is no less mealy-mouthed.

Exactly what kind of “competition” are we supposed to engage in with a brutal dictatorship? China allows its citizens no political rights and ruthlessly suppresses all dissent. It regards America as the major deterrent to the spread of its tyranny, and it has intercontinental ballistic missiles targeted for the United States. It openly threatens nations like Taiwan, a free country and an American ally, and it supplies arms to terrorist states–sorry, those are now called “states of concern”–like Iran.

The only “competition” is over whether a country that values freedom can prevent threats posed by a country that destroys freedom. But, in a more rational time, that kind of relationship is what defined enemies, not “strategic competitors.” Like Clinton’s “partnership,” Bush’s euphemistic “competition” exists, not in reality, but only in the minds of American politicians who lack the moral courage to face the truth about China’s nature, and who hope to hide their fear by redefining the English language.

Bush is certainly entitled to repudiate anything he said to the Chinese as the product of extortion. But does anyone think he will have the moral self-confidence to do so? He will undoubtedly stand by his concessionary statements. The Chinese will suffer no punishment for having held the crew hostage for eleven days. We will take no military action to retrieve the American plane they are still holding. And Bush will not even provide fighter escorts on future reconnaissance flights in the area, for fear that the Chinese will regard such action as “provocative.”

The butchers of Tiananmen Square have thus learned that force on their part will not be met with force on ours. The Chinese now have one more piece of evidence that there is little courage in Washington to stand up to them, and that our response to any crisis will be to compromise and conciliate.

The moral approach to this situation should be to treat China as the enemy it is–by its own statements and actions. An excellent beginning would be the full diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. We should also ignore all objections raised by China against our selling arms to help Taiwan defend itself against aggression. This would reverse the disgraceful policy of trying to curry favor with Beijing by pretending that Taiwan has no moral right to exist. And if China continues to arm itself in a way that endangers America–if it continues to threaten U.S. allies–if it continues to provide military support to such enemies as North Korea and Arab despots in the Middle East–we should even break diplomatic relations with China and then end all trade.

China is a growing danger to freedom, and it is becoming increasingly emboldened. No matter how hard our foreign-policy appeasers try, they cannot redefine “deadly dictatorship”–and it is time we recognized this fact.