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Poetic Diplomacy  
Forget the language differences. Columnist Gersh Kuntzman wonders what would happen if the spy plane negotiations could be conducted in verse  

    April 9, 2001 —  For most of last week, I was wondering why the resolution of this Chinese-American spy-plane saga was taking so long. I mean, how long does it take to draft a non-apology apology, send it to the Chinese, receive their demand for a stronger show of regret and incorporate it into a final respectful (but not-overly-contrite) excuse?  

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  AND THEN I opened up the paper and saw that the negotiations for a peaceful resolution were taking place in Haikou, the capital of the Hainan Island, where the Navy spy plane made its emergency landing.
        Suddenly, it all made sense: Perhaps the negotiations were not merely taking place in Haikou, but were actually being conducted in haiku, a popular form of Japanese minimalist poetry.
        If so, our negotiators, unable to communicate in this ancient language of diplomacy, are clearly hamstrung. According to my source at the Pentagon, American officials began the discussions with a salvo that was, in the true spirit of haiku, a vague, unsubstantive and ethereal message of disapproval:
       Flight over the sea
       Sunny day, no clouds ahead
       Something bad happened

       Beijing, interpreting this as an escalation in a war of words, answered back with its own view:
       U.S.A. the brave
       Why are you spying on us
       Like we’re North Korea?
The American side, seeing this as a non-issue, decided to get to the heart of the matter:
       Those Navy crewmen
       Must be returned presently
       They’re not hostages

       The Chinese assured the Americans that the crew of the crippled plane was being treated fairly:
       Those men are our “guests”
       We feed them good Chinese food
       And have plenty more
Fearing that the Chinese were sending a message that the crew would be held prisoner for weeks, the Americans tried a frontal approach:
       You smashed up our plane
       What the hell was that about?
       Do we break your planes?

       So Beijing responded as anyone would, given the circumstances:
       What’s with us, you ask?
       If our plane flew near L.A.
       You would shoot it down
The Americans took umbrage, but, in the interest of diplomacy, admitted to a small amount of culpability:
       Maybe spying’s wrong
       But your Tom Cruisin’ pilot
       Was a big hot dog
The Chinese, naturally, saw this as blaming the victim:
       It was your spy plane
       That lurched like a wounded crane
       And caused this affair
The Americans denied culpability:
       Our plane flew just fine
       Your “Top Gun” pilot wanted
       To impress Li Peng
The Chinese, in turn, sought to put the blame back on the American mission itself and to send a message about Chinese superiority:
       Why spy on China?
       Is it to learn how we’ll win
       The Olympic games?
The Americans, who also want to host the 2012 Olympiad, then raised the stakes:
       Our new president
       Would love to play catch with
       A nuclear football
Beijing, interpreting this as a call to arms, held its ground:
       Bring it on, suckers
       Sell your weapons to Taiwan
       We’ll arm Canada
With little progress being made, the American negotiating team decided to get personal:
       Your stiff uniforms
       Make you look like Chairman Mao
       Who was butt ugly
Beijing answered back with what observers call the classic “Oh, yeah?” approach:
       Your fearless leader
       Thinks tap water tastes better
       With heavy metal

       America then responded with a true low blow:
       You think you’re so great.
       But what’s that on your table?
       Could it be canine?
That left Beijing with little room for anything but a classic attack on the American economy:
       Your trade deficit
       Is caused by your need for our
       Little plastic dolls

       America upped the ante:
       At least our parents
       Can have more than one child
       And drive—not bike—home
So Beijing hit back with a haiku about America’s spate of school shootings:
       Your kids walk to school
       And are actually safer
       Than when they arrive
And that’s where we stand at the moment. American officials are hard at work drafting a retort to this latest Chinese jibe, but are reportedly having trouble fitting “Tiananmen Square massacre” into the classic five-seven-five pattern while the Chinese are fiddling with a haiku about the American economy that opens with the verse “Greenspan is a boob.”
        Negotiations continue.

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House, April 2001). Visit him at http://www.gersh.tv/
© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.
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