Kissing and Coddling China’s Dictators

by | Jul 6, 2001 | POLITICS

Our ruined EP-3 surveillance plane is still parked on that Chinese runway, months after it was forced down and its crew taken hostage. At least six Chinese-American scholars have been jailed in China on groundless spying charges; their families have not been allowed to see them and do not know where they are being held. […]

Our ruined EP-3 surveillance plane is still parked on that Chinese runway, months after it was forced down and its crew taken hostage. At least six Chinese-American scholars have been jailed in China on groundless spying charges; their families have not been allowed to see them and do not know where they are being held. Beijing continues to menace Taiwan with missile batteries and hostile rhetoric. The persecution of religious Chinese, underground Catholics in particular, persists without letup. Virtually all of China’s prodemocracy dissidents have been silenced.

This is hardly the time to be rewarding the dictators of Beijing. Yet that is precisely what the Bush administration is doing.

Earlier this month the president announced that he intended to renew China’s most-favored-nation trade status, thereby perpetuating his predecessor’s practice of “delinking” tariff privileges from human rights. And just this week the administration let it be known that it would not oppose Beijing’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2008.

And so the government of the United States continues the failed policy of appeasement that has been in place since the first George Bush was president. That was the Bush who cautioned, just a few days after the slaughter at Tiananmen Square, “I don’t think we ought to judge the whole People’s Liberation Army by that terrible incident” and later dispatched two top aides to meet secretly with Deng Xiaoping and assure him that business could proceed as usual.

Perhaps Bush the Elder would have changed course if he had won a second term. Or perhaps he would have done what Bill Clinton did: intensified the appeasement of Beijing even more recklessly. On the campaign trail, Clinton condemned Bush for “coddling dictators.” But once in office, he approved Chinese purchases of missile guidance technology and invited to the White House the general who presided over the Tiananmen massacre.

Were there any evidence that kowtowing in this way to China’s despots actually led to good results, it would be easier to understand the second President Bush’s decision to keep doing it. But if the last 15 years have made one thing clear, it is that the more Beijing is allowed to have its way, the more obdurate and intolerable its behavior becomes.

That didn’t stop a “senior State Department official” — nameless, of course — from suggesting to The Washington Post that awarding Beijing the Olympic Games would give it “a powerful but intangible incentive” to stop oppressing its citizens and threatening its neighbors. Appeasement nearly always produces the opposite effect — when tyrants get what they demand, they usually demand even more — but the State Department is still hoping to prove that Neville Chamberlain was on to something after all.

Well, tell it to Stephen Shaver.

Shaver, an American, is the Agence France-Press photographer who was beaten on Saturday by six Chinese policemen after he took a picture of a protester outside a “Three Tenors” concert in Beijing. According to wire-service reports, Shaver was punched in the head and ribs, dragged along the ground, and hurt badly enough to be sent to the hospital. The protester was also beaten by police.

The State Department promptly announced that it was “outraged” by this latest Chinese attack on an innocent American and said it conveyed its displeasure “in the strongest terms.” But the Chinese Foreign Ministry brushed the whole thing of as “an isolated case” and — focusing on *its* priority — insisted that the beating of Shaver “has nothing to do with Beijing’s bid to host the Olympic Games.”

In fact, the beating of Shaver has quite a bit to do with Beijing’s Olympic bid. Chinese officials had billed Saturday’s concert before an audience of 30,000 as a trial run for 2008 — a chance to show the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Beijing is able to host huge spectacles without mishap. What they proved is that nothing matters more to them than the suppression of dissent.

The communists are eager to convince the world that they are ready for prime time, prepared not only to stage the Olympics but to allow tens of thousands of journalists to come to China and cover the games without interference. Yet all it took to strip away that pretense was for a single photographer take a picture of a single protester.

Give China’s dictators the enormous propaganda opportunity of the Summer Games, and they will be even more ruthless in crushing any sign of discontent. As 2008 approaches, more men and women will go to prison for the crime of expressing prodemocracy opinions. More innocent victims will be swept into the *laogai* slave camps. More intellectuals will be harassed by the secret police. More Falun Gong practitioners will be tortured.

Next month, the IOC decides which city will host the 2008 Olympics. Sending the games to Beijing, the capital of the world’s last totalitarian empire, would make a mockery of everything the Olympic movement stands for. It is a pity — it is a disgrace — that the Bush administration will not say so.

Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for the Boston Globe.

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