Tuesday, April 3, 2001

China should release
U.S. airmen now

The issue: China holds 24 U.S.
airmen whose plane made an
emergency landing on Hainan after
being bumped by a Chinese fighter.

This episode is a test of statesmanship for both Beijing and Washington. The Chinese should immediately release the Americans, return the aircraft and instruct their pilots to stay at a safe distance from U.S. aircraft in the future.

In doing so, the Chinese would have everything to gain, particularly in the eyes of their many critics in the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. Magnanimity has not been much in evidence in Beijing in recent years but this would be a good time to start.

If Beijing chooses to play hardball, however, President Bush has an array of instant, mid-term and long-range responses. The U.S. would clearly have the upper hand in any prolonged confrontation and pressure could be applied in a carefully calibrated manner.

Here in Hawaii, the Pacific Command has an unusual opportunity to reinforce whatever decisions are made in Washington with a delegation of visiting Chinese journalists, led by the president of the official newspaper, People's Daily. Adm. Dennis Blair, who leads the command in which the downed crewmen serve, might want to call in Bai Keming, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, to tell him firmly that the U.S. expects to have the aircrew returned forthwith.

Beyond that, keeping three U.S. destroyers on station in the South China Sea near Hainan would send a strong signal as would deploying toward Hainan the nearest aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk, which is in the South China Sea. After China shot missiles toward Taiwan in 1996, the dispatch of two U.S. aircraft carriers to waters east of Taiwan did much to persuade the Chinese to cease fire.

Within the next few weeks, President Bush is to decide what military equipment he will approve for sale to the government in Taiwan, Beijing's arch rival on the island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. After that, in July, an international committee will decide whether to award the 2008 Olympics to Beijing, which desperately wants the games. The U.S. will have much to say about that.

Even longer range would be economic sanctions. China exported $85 billion worth of goods to the United States last year, compared with $15 billion worth of imports. President Bush could turn off that spigot rather easily even though it would cause inconvenience in the American economy.

Altogether, the choice is up to Beijing: civility or confrontation. Both the U.S. and China would gain by the first; the United States would win in the second.

Let openness prevail
in budget process

The issue: Legislative leaders have
rejected a Republican House
freshman's request to make public
details about the budget bill.

COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY has made it next to impossible to blame publishing difficulties for the failure to allow public access to government papers. However, legislators determined to keep the process of putting together Hawaii's state budget their own private endeavor are making such an excuse. If state law allows them to do so, the law should be changed.

The Legislature exempts itself from "sunshine" requirements for open meetings, earning itself a dishonorable mention award from the Big Island Press Club's "Lava Tube" designations for five years running. In addition, lawmakers have hidden their activities behind a law that allows unfiled legislative committee reports to be placed off limits to the public and to hamper access to them by other legislators.

Most bills are fairly simple and straightforward, so a bill-in-progress generates little interest. The state's $7 billion budget bill is another matter. The budget worksheets in the House and Senate money committees are complicated and may be in constant revision. In a system in which the devil is in the details, the budget bill is about as diabolic as it gets.

Kaneohe Republican Charles Djou, a member of the House Finance Committee, found out just how secret that can be. Djou was told he could look at the budget worksheets only in the committee room. He could not makes notes or copy them, and his aides could not see them at all.

"This is a question of what is more important, openness and letting the people see what is going on, or playing games," Djou says. He is asking for the attorney general's opinion on the legality of such secrecy, but he probably won't like the answer if it merely cites the law.

Senate President Robert Bunda says legislators are elected to make the budget decisions, implying that they should be permitted to do so without citizens looking over their shoulders. "What would be the need or a legislature?" he asks, suggesting a worrisome level of.nonparticipatory democracy.

Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, says there are technical problems with printing hundreds of copies of the budget worksheets. "It becomes a question of, should every citizen in the state get a copy of the worksheet," he adds. "Then we would have to publish all of it for everyone."

Taniguchi's explanation is either dishonest or that of a card-carrying Luddite. Has he heard about the Internet? Is he aware that the Legislature has a Web site? Can he envision making the current language of a bill before a legislative committee accessible to the general public by computer?

Legislature Directory
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

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