Friday, April 21, 2006

Like bull in a China shop.

Chinese president Hu Jintao's trip to the U.S. seemed to be going fairly well, he attended a love fest with Bill Gates and signed a few checks for Boeing in Washington State, but then he went to Washington DC and everything fell apart. You'd think the White House and the State Department could have managed not to offend a foreign dignitary, particularly one that we owe so much money to. But no:

Dana Milbank at the WaPo reports that while Bush and Hu stood at attention for the presentation of the two national anthems, the announcer said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the national anthem of the Republic of China, followed by the national anthem of the United States." The problem with there was is that the Republic of China is Taiwan, not the People's Republic. Oopse! And then there was the reporter from the Falun Gong paper, Wenyi Wang, who heckled Hu, screaming, "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from killing!" before being hustled away by the secret service. (It's assumed she was yelling at Hu and not at Bush, it's difficult to tell.)

W. reportedly leaned over the Hu while this was going on and said, "You're OK," meaning go ahead with your speech, but there's no word on whether Hu actually understands English. In any case, once again W. had to say he was sorry to the Chinese. The last time we said we're 'very, sorry' to the Chinese was almost three years ago to the day, on April 1st 2001, after one of their hotshot fighter pilots crashed his place into one of our EP-3 spy planes over the South China sea. In that incident we had to say we were sorry so they'd give us back our crew and plane. The crew was released after a week and the plane was chopped up and crated back to the U.S. a while later.

Is this administration just incapable of doing anything right, or was this all on purpose? How did the National Security press office not see red flags popping up when a reporter from a Falun Gong paper applied for a press pass? I'm not saying she should have been barred for being in the Falun Gong --- we, after all, tolerate lots of cults, like Scientology and the Mormons --- but you'd thing they would have kept an eye on her.

It appears that this isn't the first time Wenyi had heckled a Chinese leader. Milbank writes "A quick Nexis search shows that in 2001, she slipped through a security cordon in Malta protecting [former PM] Jiang [Zemin](she had been denied media credentials) and got into an argument with him." And why did it take so long for the Secret Service to get to her out of there? Something tells me it wouldn't have taken that long if someone was calling Bush a killer.

The Chinese appeared to handle this all with understanding and grace, but the AP quotes Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser for the pentagon as saying, China "must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn't control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the United States, into mistrust about American intentions toward China." (Another diplomatic success!)

I kind of find it ironic that W. lectured Hu on China's need to respect free speech and religious freedom, but his government is thinking about having Wenyi Wang charged with a felony for "intimidating a foreign official." Wasn't she exercising her right to free speech, speaking truth to power? Hu is a communist dictator, isn't he? Isn't that the sort of thing we encourage, speaking out for democracy?

At this point, I don't know how much we can really say to the Chinese about human rights anyway. Even as W. and Hu were having their luncheon, not an official state dinner, the pentagon was releasing its list of names of those who we've been holding at Gitmo. The Chinese say we're holding 22 of their citizens who they want returned for trial on terrorism charges. In particular, they want back the Uighurs we're holding. The U.S. says we can't send them back because they'd be tortured. (It's not like we'd ever torture anyone)

The Uighurs in question were actually found by a military tribunal not to be "enemy combatants," and a Federal judge said they should be released, but the government says they have to continue to hold them at Gitmo because they can't find another country that will offer them asylum. It appears, the rest of the world is afraid of making China mad and the U.S. won't dare to help them either.

Remember, back in the good old days when we used to support the Uighurs and their aspirations for freedom in Xinjiang? Back in the Clinton's day they used to wave American flags, but these days anyone who fights for their freedom is a terrorist.

Though most people might think this turned out to be a major diplomatic disaster, the neocons who support Taiwanese independence and are always writing books about the coming clash with China, will be happy. There was a lot of talk in the news about China's lack of transparency about its military spending and what they're really up to, but I don't think they're anywhere near challenging us militarily in the Pacific. They spend about $30 billion a year on their military, maybe a little more off the books, but we spend $460 billion a year. Maybe if we didn't spend 40% of our entire budget on the pentagon and its big ticket toys we wouldn't have to borrow so much from the Chinese and then they wouldn't be such a threat. I don't know, just a thought.


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