by Eric Margolis
President Bill Clinton arrived in China this week with an entourage worthy of Emperor Kublai Khan: a thousand courtiers, officials, flunkies, guards, and, of course, the ever-fawning White House press corps, chanting the master's praises.
For the Clintons, the president's longest-ever official foreign visit offers a welcome break from the rising tide of scandals that threatens to swamp the Administration. Just as the president was packing his bags, came new charges Beijing's agents of influence had managed to rent the Clinton Administration, and shape its China policy. And more rumblings from the endless Lewinsky investigation, which might yet become the kiss of death for Bill Clinton.
Most Americans snooze when its comes to foreign affairs, but this imperial junket has inflamed passions across the country, producing a flood of criticism, angry debate, and lots of hot air.
Leftwing-liberal Democrats, and their media allies, raised a great rumpus over Clinton's official reception at Tiananmen Square, where Chinese troops crushed a student uprising in 1989, killing around 200 demonstrators. Tiananmen outraged westerners because it happened on TV. The massacre has become a `cause celebre' among fashionable leftists and literati, who have never forgiven China's rulers for abandoning socialism.
Unions are anti-China because they see it as an economic threat. Japan Inc. used to be the Yellow Peril; now it's China Inc., with its rising trade surplus. Hollywood snarls at China because it pirates films, and oppresses Tibet, an object of cult worship by the Beverly Hills movie elite.
Critics demanded Clinton avoid Tiananmen, and command China immediately cease human rights violations. No pussyfooting, or gentle rebukes. Fire and brimstone! No kow-towing to the Butchers of Beijing!
These same China-bashers totally ignore India's far worse violations of human rights in Kashmir and Punjab. They excuse serious human rights abuses by US allies Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, by the need for `security.' Washington winks at rights violations by useful dictators, like Marcos, Mobutu, or Suharto - when it serves US strategic goals.
But the most outrageous example of selective moral outrage is Russia's Mongol-like brutality against tiny, rebellious Chechnya. Russian forces slaughtered Chechen 100,000 civilians, razed the nation's cities, and, in a final monstrous act of terrorism, strew 1.5 million anti-personnel mines across the countryside.
The United States funded this atrocity. As Russian forces were leveling Chechnya and butchering civilians, Clinton engineered a new, $1.5 billion IMF loan to Moscow. In his presidency's lowest point, Clinton shamefully compared President Yeltsin's destruction of Chechnya to Abraham Lincoln's actions during the US civil war. China shoots a few hundred rioting students and becomes a human rights outlaw. Russia kills 100,000 civilians, and gets American money.
China's human rights record is poor, to be sure. But it is the best China's has ever had in its 5,000 year history.
When I first went to China 25 years ago, it was a gigantic, totalitarian gulag, run by demented Maoist fanatics. Since then, I've seen China evolve from totalitarianism to authoritarianism. China is moving rapidly towards greater personal freedoms that will very likely become full political ones within a decade. Better to quietly, but constantly remind China of human rights than threaten it. Anyone who knows Chinese understands that tact and diplomacy gains more than table-pounding.
Unnoticed in the west, China has created functioning democracy at the village level, giving the vote to 800 million of its 1.1 billion people. Legal systems and institutions are slowly emerging where before there was none. In a mammoth, enormously risky free-market revolution, China is selling or closing most state- owned industries, and firing half its bureaucrats. Economic liberty usually engenders political liberties.
In the recent past, Chinese could not move, work, marry, go to school, or utter opinions without permission of the omnipotent state. Critics should understand that compared to Mao's era, today's China is like another planet. If it spins any faster, planet China could fly apart.
We always-hurried westerners should not push China too fast. Chinese move slower than we, but see farther ahead. In fact, it's outrageous chutzpah for Bill Clinton, until recently governor of Arkansas, a two-by nothing state of 2.4 million people whose largest industry is chicken-plucking, to dictate political and social behavior to China, a highly sophisticated, 5000 year-old civilization. Think how Americans would howl if China's President, Jiang Zemin, arrived in Washington and scolded Americans for racism, crime, pollution, and peddling junk culture, garbage food, and cigarettes around the globe.
The right is also blasting Clinton's trip. China is the new Evil Empire, chorus the military-industrial complex, rural Republicans from darkest Dixie, modern Christian crusaders, and a bevy of self-styled `security' experts. We'll soon be at war with China, they warn. It's time to `contain' China, then break it up.
This is preposterous, dangerous nonsense. All the bogus alarms about the military and economic `threat' from China sound exactly like the fevered warnings made by British imperialists around 1900 that the emerging commercial power of Germany was a mortal threat to the Empire.
Simply replace today's Great Game over oil pipelines in Central Asia for the infamous Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad; Taiwan for Morocco; and Germany's efficient industries for China's. Just as Britain's imperialists whipped up anti-German hysteria to protect their commercial interests from new competitors, so America's Sinophobes do today. The climate of fear and hatred created up by Britain's relentless anti-German propaganda was a major cause of World War I.
Many Americans have become arrogantly myopic, and so used to being the only power in town, they simply can't accept other great nations have legitimate economic and military interests. Or that as China's power in Asia grows, America's there must necessarily decline.
People in the US think it's perfectly normal for an American fleet to cruise off China's coast but - would be outraged if a Chinese flotilla appeared off Miami. - particularly if Beijing announced it was there to defend Cuba, as the US 7th Fleet defends Taiwan. The coming century will see China, Japan and India the dominant powers of Asia. The Pacific will not stay an American lake forever.
No major US and Chinese strategic interests clash. Beijing has no significant territorial claims, Taiwan, and South China Sea underwater resources excepted. In fact, China and the US are natural trading partners and military allies: both have a common interest in preserving the 150 year-old flow of commerce and culture between them, and in joining to oppose restoration of the old Soviet Union when Russia eventually - and inevitably - gets back on its feet.
Reject the moanings of the left and alarmist nonsense from the right. We should, however, be concerned by China's harsh repression of Tibet, which I have observed firsthand, and, more lately, its suppression of restive Muslims in Sinkiang, who chafe under Han rule. The US should still defend the Taiwan Strait, while nudging Taipei and Beijing towards closer relations. One day, Taiwan will rejoin China. China's so-far cautious, hand-off policy towards Hong Kong is a positive advertisement.
The most important outcome of President Clinton's visit to China is to remind both peoples, whose knowledge of one another is flawed by old and new distortions, of the historic links and friendship between the two mighty nations, whose cultures, habits, thoughts and values have so much enriched one another. To also remind Chinese that of foreign powers, America alone refused to join the 19th century rape of China; of `oil for the lamps of China,' of the gallant Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers defending their skies. And, perhaps, open discussion about how the entire Korean conflict was a terrible mistake by both sides.
This is right and bully work for an American president. Well it is done. Chinese-US relations are too important to be allowed to drift, or be blown by misguided critics into rocky waters. It's also time to remind China that after centuries of racism, the west finally acknowledges respect for the great Chinese people. This is not kow-towing. It is good sense, and good strategy.
Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist
and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.
[The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and released exclusively by The Daily
Telegraph, partly confirm the Chinese government's account of the early
hours of June 4, 1989, which has always insisted that soldiers did not
massacre demonstrators inside Tiananmen Square.
Instead, the cables show that Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters
outside the centre of Beijing, as they fought their way towards the
square from the west of the city.--Malcolm Moore, "Wikileaks: no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square, cables
claim," Telegraph, June 4, 2011]