Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hu Jintao

Where is Our True Policy?

Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

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Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

The article could easily be about China. The authorities in Beijing constantly “arrest, harass, and assault” pro-democracy activists and many others, and back up their intent to prevent “acts to destabilize the nation” with massive censorship, internet and cell-phone monitoring, and the deployment of tens of thousands of secret police and paramilitary People’s Armed Police. And they regularly blame “foreign forces” for what are actually indigenous Chinese demands for freedom.

But of course the country in question is not China. It is Burma, which has an ugly military regime that China supports. Yet in spite of the fact that the behaviors of the regimes in Burma and China are nearly identical, the United States regularly scolds and sanctions the Burmese regime, while embracing and engaging the government in China.

So angry is Bush with Burma that he has “excluded its military leader from a planned summit between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Texas.” Yet a day before announcing this, the same President Bush had a cordial talk with (unelected) Chinese President Hu Jintao. Unlike Burmese pariah Than Shwe, Hu was welcomed warmly in Washington last April. In Sydney two days ago, Mr. Bush accepted Hu’s invitation to attend the Olympics next year—in drum-tight Beijing, from which city many dissidents and activists have already been expelled, a year ahead of the games.

To confuse things even further, on August 27, evidently facing not-so-veiled military threats from China, top Bush administration officials administered unprecedented public scoldings to the elected government of Taiwan for planning a referendum about applying to the United Nations. But then last Thursday Bush seemed to reverse that position in a speech that called Taiwan’s evolution to democracy “one of the great stories of our time.”

Where is our true policy in this muddle? If we genuinely value democracy, why are we so ambivalent and self-contradictory about its practice in Taiwan? If dictatorships are best treated by engagement and dialogue, as with China, then why doesn’t the administration reach out to Burma to break its diplomatic isolation? But if pressure and quarantine are the right approach to autocracies, as our Burma policy suggests, then why doesn’t Mr. Bush rethink his plan to visit Beijing? The administration should strive for more consistency in its policies.

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Clarity on Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

By publicly supporting the Chinese, we have put the spotlight unintentionally on our own policies, which are a welter of contradictions unlikely to withstand close scrutiny. We have never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, even when we did recognize the Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as the government of China. We expected, when we cut our relations with Chiang’s government, that Taipei’s then-autocratic rulers would cut a deal with Beijing and merge. But they did not; they went democratic, unexpectedly (not without some consternation on our part). We support independence referenda in states all around the world, and are pushing now for the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. We insist on peaceful resolution of issues between Taipei and Beijing, yet we sell weapons and share intelligence with the government of Taiwan, which we do not recognize. Our most important Asian allies, Japan in particular, have vital interests in Taiwan’s not coming under Chinese control. PRC forces there could easily cut vital shipping lanes for energy from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.

But even though we do not consider Taiwan to be part of China, we oppose the Taiwanese sharing this view or acting on it. All sorts of conflicts are latent here, but silence and circumspection have kept them reasonably quiet for nearly thirty years. Now a series of misplaced steps, designed to please China, seem set to push the whole situation towards exactly what we and they have been seeking to avoid: a clear-cut, democratic, and legal assertion of the rights of the Taiwanese to be members of the international community.

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The PLA at 80

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

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Mao, Coming Soon to the Big Screen

Earlier this week, Variety magazine reported that Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal have obtained the rights to Roy Rowan’s Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Rowan, a former correspondent for Time and Life, will be a consultant on the film.

I probably will not be asked to help on this project, so I thought I should make some notes for DeNiro. The late 1940′s were heady times for Mao Zedong. He defeated a vastly superior adversary, Chiang Kai-shek, who enjoyed substantial American support. Yet Kai-shek was corrupt, weak, and incompetent. It’s no wonder that a ragtag army of rebels led by an assistant librarian with literary aspirations defeated him—Chiang had simply lost the hearts of the Chinese people. Mao did not win, so much as he occupied a vacuum after his opponent’s forces disintegrated.

The young Mao went on to preside over the early successes of the People’s Republic. So DeNiro’s film might end up making him look pretty good. Should we complain if Mao is portrayed as a hero during the revolution and the first few years of New China?

Actually, the better Mao looks on the big screen, the worse it is for his successors, especially the ones in power now. Hu Jintao, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party, will not like moviegoers making comparisons between the charismatic Mao of the early years and the drab and corrupt leaders who infest Beijing today. Hu knows that the Party has lost the hearts of the Chinese, and someone in the audience may just get the idea that it is time for another revolution in the great nation of China. Chinese idealism, after all, did not die with Mao Zedong.

Earlier this week, Variety magazine reported that Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal have obtained the rights to Roy Rowan’s Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Rowan, a former correspondent for Time and Life, will be a consultant on the film.

I probably will not be asked to help on this project, so I thought I should make some notes for DeNiro. The late 1940′s were heady times for Mao Zedong. He defeated a vastly superior adversary, Chiang Kai-shek, who enjoyed substantial American support. Yet Kai-shek was corrupt, weak, and incompetent. It’s no wonder that a ragtag army of rebels led by an assistant librarian with literary aspirations defeated him—Chiang had simply lost the hearts of the Chinese people. Mao did not win, so much as he occupied a vacuum after his opponent’s forces disintegrated.

The young Mao went on to preside over the early successes of the People’s Republic. So DeNiro’s film might end up making him look pretty good. Should we complain if Mao is portrayed as a hero during the revolution and the first few years of New China?

Actually, the better Mao looks on the big screen, the worse it is for his successors, especially the ones in power now. Hu Jintao, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party, will not like moviegoers making comparisons between the charismatic Mao of the early years and the drab and corrupt leaders who infest Beijing today. Hu knows that the Party has lost the hearts of the Chinese, and someone in the audience may just get the idea that it is time for another revolution in the great nation of China. Chinese idealism, after all, did not die with Mao Zedong.

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