Today marks the 24th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown and massacre. Chinese actions outraged the world. The Chinese government’s actions were met with widespread disgust in both the United States and Europe, and Bush slapped some sanctions on Beijing—suspending weapons sales for example—the next day.
It was not long before self-described realists in George H.W. Bush’s administration decided to reach out once again to China. Less than a month after the massacres—with martial law still in force—Bush dispatched National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Beijing. Their trip was secret and did not bear fruit. Nevertheless, within just two and a half years, the Bush administration was undoing the last vestiges of its post-Tiananmen posture toward China. Secretary of State James Baker visited quite openly in 1991. Historians can debate whether the elder Bush’s policy was wise, or shortsighted; whether Bush and Baker’s approach was the Beijing Duck to their Chicken Kiev. No doubt China is an important country, and so it cannot simply be ignored.
But what about Syria? As Syrian government forces regain momentum, it is entirely possible that they can defeat—or at least contain—the rebels. In such a situation, should the United States and Europe reach out once again to President Assad’s regime? Should we re-establish normal relations between Washington and Damascus?
At their convention last week, the Democrats went out of their way to treat Mitt Romney’s tough talk about Russia as evidence of his unsuitability for the White House. But at least when John Kerry was mocking the GOP candidate, he didn’t cite Vladimir Putin. But when the deputy campaign manager of the president’s re-election effort sought to take a shot at the Republican over his attitude toward China, her source was the official state news agency of the Chinese Communist Party.
Stephanie Cutter has been a prominent spokesperson for the Democrats on cable news channels this year, but she may be taking a slightly lower profile in the future as a result of a tweet in which she linked to a Reuters story that quoted at length an editorial in the Xinhua service that serves as the mouthpiece for the dictatorial Beijing regime. According to Xinhua, Romney is a hypocritical trade war-mongerer. One would think that an insult directed at an American from such a source would be considered to be a badge of honor by most voters, Democrat or Republican, but in the current atmosphere of partisan warfare, Cutter and the Obama campaign seem to think that anyone who has anything bad to say about Romney deserves a pat on the back or at least a re-tweet.
As I wrote earlier this week, given the depth of his political involvement on behalf of Republican candidates it’s hardly surprising to find that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is in the crosshairs of the liberal media these days. Adelson’s billions are derived from vastly profitable — and entirely legal — gambling enterprises in Las Vegas and Macao, China but there is an ongoing effort to depict him as a shady character with whom politicians should not associate. The investigation about possible bribery of Chinese officials, which the New York Times spread over their front page on Tuesday, is a serious matter but the allegation remains more a matter of assumptions of misbehavior than any proof. But that has not stopped Democratic groups from trying to brand Adelson as toxic or even repeating other outrageous and palpably false charges about him for which some have been forced to apologize. Now the Times has escalated the campaign with an editorial calling on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to distance themselves from Adelson and, no doubt, not take any of his campaign contributions.
The hypocrisy of the left’s assault on Adelson is so obvious it barely needs to be mentioned. Adelson is not nearly as shady a character as left-wing financier George Soros, whose activities have included international currency manipulation that sent some countries over the edge in the past. No one questioned whether it was wise for John Kerry to accept Soros’s money in 2004 as part of the billionaire’s crusade to defeat George W. Bush. Nor did anyone question his contributions to the Democrats’ successful get out the vote campaign in 2008. The Times did not speculate then whether Soros’s real agenda involved his business interests, as they do now about Adelson. Instead, they took him at his word that his commitment was ideological. The only real difference between the two is that Soros backs left-wing politicians and causes while Adelson has dedicated his financial resources to supporting Israel and conservatives.
Those with wealth have to know media and government scrutiny comes with their money. And if such persons choose to involve themselves in politics, then that scrutiny is bound to be even greater. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire supporter of Jewish philanthropies and Republican political candidates, probably understood this long before he became the subject of so much attention this year. But the focus on Adelson today makes it more clear than ever that the controversial campaign donor’s willingness to put himself in the spotlight means his business dealings are going to be gone over with a fine tooth comb by both the media and federal authorities as they search for something with which to hang him.
Adelson is the subject of a lengthy investigative piece that appears on the front page of today’s New York Times. According to the story, a former “front man” in China for the casino mogul’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation is being investigated about funds that may have been used to bribe foreign officials in connection with the company’s efforts to expand their business there. If true, that would violate U.S. laws that forbid such shenanigans. It’s a messy and complicated tale that has drawn the attention of Chinese authorities, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the Times and the Wall Street Journal. But it is far from clear that Adelson has violated any law or done anything that any other big business–which chooses to operate in a country where corruption is rife and the rule of law is a hazy concept–hasn’t done. It may well be that anyone whose prosperity is derived from gambling is going to be subjected to such investigations. But the idea that he has mixed “politics and profits” as the Times put it, seems to imply there is something not kosher about him even if no wrongdoing can be proved. That leaves cynical observers wondering whether the outrage about Adelson’s dealings would be quite so acute if he were not a leading backer of conservative and Israeli causes.
Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.
He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”
A funny thing happened recently on the road to China’s supposedly inexorable rise to global power. Actually, a couple of funny things.
First and most prominent has been the scandal swirling around Bo Xilai, onetime Politburo member and party boss in Chonqqing, who has now been removed from power–and from sight–because of a variety of corruption and abuse-of-power allegations. The latest twist is the news that his wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in the murder of the mysterious upper-class British expatriate and fixer Neil Heywood, a character who seems to have wandered straight out of a Graham Greene novel. The whole affair is causing major embarrassment to the ruling class in China for the way it brings into the open the shady machinations and rich deals that are a regular part of life for Communist mandarins. While Bo Xilai’s fall is being used to spread the message that no one is above the law, in fact no one knows exactly what led to his downfall; there is widespread suspicion it was not the result of his crimes per se, whatever they may have been, but rather of a murky behind-the-scenes power struggle whose features can be glimpsed only dimly by outsiders.
The second news item of note is this standoff in disputed waters of the South China Sea between a Philippine Navy gunboat and two Chinese “surveillance” ships. It seems that the Philippine warship had arrived to discover Chinese fishing vessels operating in waters claimed by Manila. Filipino sailors found plenty of illegally harvested clams, corals and other sea treasures aboard the ships before being blocked from further access by the arrival of two Chinese “surveillance” ships–presumably unmarked vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Why are these two news items so important? Because both cast doubts about whether China’s rise is as inevitable as the pundits have it.