Smooth, Western-style media skills do not come naturally to Chinese Communists. At a press briefing here in Washington last Wednesday, a reporter asked Chinese embassy propagandist Yu Shuning to summarize the intended theme of Jiang Zemin's big U.S. tour. China's maximum leader has an impressive series of photo-ops on his schedule: the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Colonial Williamsburg, the White House and the Capitol, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and so on. What's it all about, Yu was asked, `What image does President Jiang want to create for himself at sites like Pearl Harbor and the Liberty Bell?'
Yu was flummoxed by the Liberty Bell. Pearl Harbor and what, he wondered? Then Yu needed help with the question itself: `What kind of image?' Right, the reporter persisted: `What kind of image would he like to create for himself?' Pause, `I have already said,' Yu finally responded, `President Jiang will bring images to the United States.'
Indeed, he will. There is, for example, the image of Wei Jingsheng in confinement at a Hebei-province concentration camp called the Nanpu New Life Salt Works. Though he was recently passed over for the 1997 Nobel peace prize in favor of some hippie from Vermont, Wei remains the world's leading prisoner of conscience, locked up all but six months of the past 18 years for `illegal' activism in behalf of democracy. Reliable details of his current condition--he is said to be gravely ill--are impossible to obtain. But we may fairly guess at the daily ordeal he and countless thousands like him suffer.
The dissident Liu Qing was subjected to a lengthy prison term in the 1980s for the `crime' of publishing a transcript of Wei Jingsheng's 1979 show trial. At the end of a brief hunger strike, Liu has since written, he was tied to a `special metal chair.' Other prisoners `lifted my legs in the air while kneading and pressing down on my stomach.' One of them `squeezed my throat tight and pinched my nose shut.' A prison official `stuck a metal brace in my mouth, twisting it open so wide that the skin on the corners of my mouth ripped open.' The official then `clamped a pair of
metal pliers onto my tongue, pulling it way out of my mouth before sliding a length of tubing into my esophagus.' Liu next had his stomach pumped full of salt broth, after which `the floor was covered with pools of blood' and `my mouth was a numb and swollen mound of raw flesh.'
There you have it in a nutshell: the central problem confronting Sino-U.S. relations generally and this week's Jiang-Clinton summit in particular. China is a hideous, aggressive, unapologetic despotism, and Jiang Zemin is China's unapologetic despot-in-chief. Shall the United States notice these facts and conduct its China diplomacy accordingly? Or shall the United States largely ignore these facts--since any commensurate response might threaten American corporate profits in the Chinese market--and celebrate Jiang Zemin and his dictatorship as worthy and valued players on the international stage?
Needless to say, we know the answer already--it has been official U.S. policy since 1994. During his pre-summit address last Friday, Bill Clinton touched oh-so-delicately on the essential character of Jiang's regime, explaining it away as the product of China's search for order in a time of profound change. America itself is not `blameless in our social fabric,' the president reminded his listeners. And though we may disagree with the Chinese about important matters, he advised, we must nevertheless cooperate with them.
You can't wrest much serious political cooperation from people who `disagree' about something so basic as freedom, of course, and administration spokesmen have for weeks been careful to minimize practical expectations for the summit. The Chinese may sign a few of those minor agreements they habitually violate as soon as the ink is dry, and that's about it. But in the narcotic inertia of Sino-U.S. `engagement' diplomacy, substance is not really the point. Mere manners are the message. And the message, this week as always, is `nice.'
They will be nice to Jiang Zemin at the White House on Wednesday. He will get a 21-gun salute and a state dinner and a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra. He will get all this `first-class' ceremony, explains someone from the National Security Council's Asia office, because he is `the leader of a great nation who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.'
They will be nice to Jiang Zemin at the Capitol on Thursday, where a breakfast banquet will be thrown for him behind the safety of closed doors. No China-related legislation will reach the House or Senate floor this week, the Republican leadership has promised. Candid debate about China policy, Newt Gingrich's press secretary says, might `appear an insult' to their visitor. Can't have that.
The National Park Service and Drexel University will be nice to Jiang in Philadelphia. Former president George Bush and the CEOs of AT&T, Kodak, and IBM will be nice to Jiang in New York. Harvard University will be nice to Jiang in Cambridge; school officials tell the Los Angeles Times that the audience for his scheduled speech there `has been carefully `groomed and sifted' to avoid embarrassing confrontations.' The Boeing and Hughes corporations will be nice to Jiang in Long Beach and El Segundo.
This is what the Chinese want, more than anything else. They want to be dealt with politely, as equals, people just like us, people you would be proud to take home to Mother. They are working hard to achieve this goal, in their ham-fisted way. `We try to make some PR job,' one Chinese `expert on the United States' tells the Washington Post.
And how depressing it is, nauseating even, to see elite America eagerly collaborate in the construction of this spin--which is, at bottom, after all, a lie of gigantic proportions, Jiang Zemin, Time magazine tells us, loves Benny Goodman, Mozart, and Elvis, too. He knows the Gettysburg Address by heart. He has `favorite American authors,' the Los Angeles Times reports: `Mark Twain and'--we're not making this up--`Zbigniew Brzezinski.' He's a big, cuddly teddy bear of a man, apparently.
Jiang is also a man, of course, who tells American journalists that `democracy and human rights are relative concepts.' And that Wei Jingsheng is a common criminal, not a `so-called' political dissident. And that China's rape of Tibet was in fact a successful effort to rescue that country from slavery, like our own Civil War, and that `the American people should be happy' about it. Jiang issues these spectacular insults, all of them in the last few weeks, but draws no official and direct American rebuke or demurral. Rebuking him wouldn't be nice, you see.
The master of the Nanpu New Life Salt Works has no business invoking Abraham Lincoln, or appearing next to the Liberty Bell, or drinking champagne at the White House. It diminishes American principle that he has been invited to do such things. It diminishes American principle further that he will be applauded for it by our elected leaders, by our college presidents and Kissingers, by our business chieftains, by our `sophisticated' opinion leaders.
The task of rescuing American honor this week will fall to those allegedly unsophisticated protesters who will dog Jiang Zemin wherever he goes, exercising their rights under what Yu Shuning calls `the First Amendment of the Constitution, et cetera.' We hope the protests are as large and loud and obnoxious as possible. It won't be `nice.' But it will be right.
China in recent months has sold an array of nuclear-, chemical- and biological-weapons technology and missile technology to nations seeking weapons of mass destruction. Here are some of the known transfers:
Telemetry equipment was provided to Iran for missile tests on the medium-range Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missile program in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Rocket motors and test equipment were shipped to Iran for a new short-range missile known as the NP-110, which was tested in May.
Equipment to develop deadly biological weapons was sent to Iran. A Chinese-supplied factory that produces glass-lined equipment was opened earlier this year.
400 metric tons of chemicals used in producing nerve agents and riot-control agents were shipped to Iran last year. In May, sanctions were imposed on seven Chinese companies that sold chemical weapons goods and equipment to Iran.
Accelerometers and gyroscopes for missiles were supplied to Iran in 1996.
Furnace and diagnostic equipment with nuclear weapons applications were sold to Pakistan in late 1996--after a May 1996 pledge by Beijing not to sell nuclear technology.
Five French-made Super Puma helicopters with Chinese air-launched missiles were promised to Iran under a 1996 deal that also involved Indonesia.
5,000 ring magnets were sold to Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan in 1996. The magnets were assessed by U.S. intelligence to be a major boost to Islamabad's production of nuclear-weapons fuel.
M-11 missiles were sold to Pakistan in 1995 and 1996. U.S. intelligence believes the missiles are operational, but the administration ignored the finding to avoid applying sanctions.
Missile-patrol boats equipped with scores of advanced C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles were sold to Iran in 1996. They provide a new capability to attack U.S. or allied ships in the Persian Gulf.
Missile technology was sold last year to Syria.
A complete factory for producing M-11 missiles or systems of similar ranges was sold to Pakistan in 1996.
Craftily, ever so craftily, President Clinton is deceiving the American public about a critical danger to world security: China's international sales of the materiel and technology of nuclear warfare.
The motive is to allow China to buy American nuclear materiel and information, including advanced U.S. nuclear reactor technology--as U.S. nuclear manufacturers are urging.
No previous President, and not even Mr. Clinton himself until now, would take the step required to permit Chinese nuclear shopping in America--certifying that China was not illicitly peddling its own nuclear goods abroad.
The U.S. knew that was not true.
The U.S. knew that despite Beijing's denials and pledges, for more than a decade China has made important nuclear sales to countries intent on achieving capability to make nuclear bombs.
Under a 1985 U.S. law, nations illegally proliferating nuclear materiel and technology are subject to American sanctions. They are also forbidden to buy U.S. nuclear products and technology.
Now Mr. Clinton is ready to permit American nuclear sales to China. So last Friday, in his speech setting the stage for the state visit of President Jiang Zemin, he made this statement:
`China has lived up to its pledge not to assist unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in third countries, and it is developing a system of export controls to prevent the transfer or sale of technology for weapons of mass destruction.'
Neither part of that sentence is honest.
In 1992, after selling nuclear-war materiel to Iran, Iraq and Algeria among other countries, China signed the worldwide Nonproliferation Treaty against spreading knowledge and nuclear weapons to states that did not possess them.
Three years later, U.S. intelligence discovered that the China National Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, a Beijing-controlled operation, had sold 5,000 ring magnets to Pakistan, which is trying to match India's nuclear-weapon potential. Experts say that sale could increase Pakistan's weapon capability by jumping its enriched-uranium capacity 100 percent.
The magnets are a product China sold to Saddam Hussein before the gulf war.
The U.S. also found that the magnets went to `unsafeguarded' Pakistani facilities--no international inspection permitted. Teams of U.N. inspectors have spent almost six years trying to find all of Saddam's `unsafeguarded' hidden nuclear capability.
Violating the treaty should have brought sanctions. Washington complained but imposed no penalty.
China denied the sale. Then on May 11, 1996, it promised not to do it again. Mr. Clinton's speech said nothing about China's nuclear deals and treaty-breaking--or what the C.I.A. told Congress in June 1997.
The C.I.A. reported that during the second half of 1996, after the pledge to the U.S., China was still the `primary source of nuclear related equipment and technology' to Pakistan. Also, said the report, China is the world's `most significant supplier of weapons of mass destruction-related goods and technology'--which means nuclear, chemical or bacteriological.
The President did not mention China's breaking its pledge to America after breaking its treaty pledge to the world. Nor did he say that he was planning to reward China by giving it clearance to shop nuclear in America. But he will, unless Congress can block him.
After China's broken pledges, will Americans be fools enough to believe Beijing will keep new promises to become a reformed proliferator or use U.S. nuclear technology for `peaceful purposes'? Just this year, after the usual denials, Beijing admitted that U.S. machinery sold for civilian manufacture was transferred to a military aviation plant.
That Clinton remark about China's developing export controls is cynical acceptance of Beijing's cynical pretense that any illicit nuclear exporting was the fault of sleepy customs officials.
The stuff of nuclear, bacteriological or chemical warfare is not exported from China unless top officials approve. Mr. Jiang is the toppest.
President Clinton is crafty, but not crafty enough. He has turned China's broken pledges into a guilt of his own--deception about a matter of life and death, many lives and perhaps, some hideous day, many deaths.