Jewish World Review May 12, 1999 /26 Iyar, 5759
First-hand encounter with Chinese paranoia
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
NATO BOMBS KILLED THREE persons and injured 20 more at the Chinese embassy
in Belgrade last week, but the casualties from this appalling blunder
continue to mount. The Chinese government has already announced suspension
of high-level military ties with the United States, and postponement of arms
control and nuclear proliferation talks in response to the bombing, in
addition to canceling its dialogue on human-rights issues.
But the repercussions could hit hard within the Chinese government itself,
too, as those in Beijing who have urged closer ties to the Clinton
administration get their comeuppance.
The U.S.-Chinese relationship during the Clinton years has been marked by a
series of miscalculations of monumental proportions on both sides. Both
American and Chinese officials have been misreading signals from each other
for years, based on the mistaken assumption of both parties that everyone
was operating under the same rules.
The Chinese government funneled more than a million dollars into the
Clinton re-election campaign thinking they were buying peace on human-rights
issues and more access to U.S. military technology and markets. The Chinese
didn't anticipate what they no doubt saw as a double-cross when the Clinton
administration last month endorsed a U.N. Human Rights Committee rebuke of
China's human rights record and the president failed to push for China's
acceptance into the World Trade Organization. And they may well feel that
the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade was payback for the discovery of
their extensive spying at the U.S. nuclear labs in Los Alamos, N. M., and
The Clinton administration has been just as off-base in its assumptions
about the Chinese, with perhaps more dangerous implications. Take the
administration's explanation of the May 7 bombing: Concerned about growing
criticism of its air-war strategy, administration officials were quick to
deflect blame from the pilots and military planners to the CIA.
Pilots targeted the wrong building, administrations officials said, because
the CIA had provided them with erroneous analysis based on fuzzy aerial
reconnaissance photographs, without information from sources actually on the
By blaming the CIA, the administration has actually intensified the most
paranoid distrust of the Chinese government. No one in Beijing will believe
the CIA targeted the Chinese embassy by accident. At best, the Chinese may
believe the 'mistake' was really a rogue operation by hardliners in the
agency. At worst, they'll think Clinton himself ordered the action. And the
administration's own officials may have exacerbated that suspicion by
letting it be known throughout the Kosovo campaign that the president
personally reviews and approves all sensitive targets -- much as President
Lyndon Johnson did during the Vietnam War, with similar disastrous
I've witnessed the paranoia of Chinese government officials firsthand when
I served as the U.S. expert to the U.N. Sub-commission on Human Rights from
1992 to 1996. Although I was appointed by President Bush to serve in my
private capacity -- not as an official of the U.S. government -- and
continued to serve for three years after President Clinton took office
because the rules of the sub-commission forbade removal of any appointees on
political grounds, the Chinese always believed that I was operating under
direct instructions from first the Bush and then the Clinton
Whenever I criticized China's human rights record, as I did at every
opportunity, the Chinese ambassador would complain to his American
counterpart. At one point, an official in the Chinese mission bitterly
protested directly to me that he had been given assurances at the "highest
levels of the U.S. government" that the kind of issues I was raising would
not be raised in an open forum.
When I explained that I was not a member of my government, just a private
person with expertise on human- and civil-rights issues, he could barely
conceal his contempt. "You worked in the White House," he said, as if that
settled the issue. No amount of explanation that I had left government
almost 10 years earlier and was now in private life assuaged his scepticism.
If the Chinese government can't understand the concept of 'former
government official,' how much less likely are they to believe the CIA could
make an innocent mistake in targeting their embassy in Belgrade? By pointing
the finger at the CIA, the Clinton administration has undermined its own
efforts to calm jittery Chinese nerves.
The Chinese won't soon forget -- or
forgive -- this latest betrayal by a president they thought they
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