The Hoover Institution published a report late last year presenting an assessment of China’s infiltration into all walks of American life by a “working group” of pundits and academics. The report recommended “constructive vigilance,” and I thought it unnecessarily added to America’s already heightened paranoia about China.
I said as much last month in my review of the report. I made the case that another working group of equally eminent scholars and commentators would arrive at entirely different conclusions.
S B Woo joins the discussion
Then S B Woo, president of the 80-20 Educational Foundation, stepped forward to express outrage in an indignant letter to the co-chairmen of the working group. He accused the authors of the report of McCarthyism by implying that the Chinese-American community has been under pressure from the Chinese diplomatic missions in the US to support China’s party line.
Woo specifically demanded that they provide evidence to back up their accusation that I am openly sympathetic to the goals of the Communist Party of China (CPC). If you have evidence, please share it with me and the entire Chinese-American community,” he said. “If you don’t, then I demand that you retract the statement and apologize to the entire Chinese community and George Koo.”
Woo pioneered the idea that if 80% of Asian-American voters were to vote the same way, then despite their relatively small numbers, they could effectively swing state and national elections. Woo’s movement has attracted a national following.
Therefore, when Woo sent a second follow-up letter, the leaders of the working group quickly responded with a letter signed by co-chairmen Larry Diamond and Orville Schell and group participant John Pomfret. Woo shared their letter with me so that I could respond.
The most interesting “aha, caught you with your hand in the cookie jar” accusation in the letter was that I have been listed as an adviser to the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China since the founding of that organization.
What’s wrong with that?
Absolutely true, guilty as charged. I have never deviated from the idea that Taiwan is part of China, and therefore how can I not support the idea of peaceful reunification?
I saw attending the 2002 inaugural conference on reunification as a way to support a close friend who was the organizer, to visit Sydney for the first time, and to be assured of good company, because former US president Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker.
Apparently, Clinton didn’t see anything wrong with peaceful reunification either.
Diamond’s letter claimed that the United Front of Chinese political parties created these councils around the world as a “lobbying wing” and implied that the United Front being affiliated with the CPC can only be nefarious.
At the Sydney conference, admittedly the only one I ever attended, I saw and met a lot of enthusiastic overseas Chinese of like mind that believe in one China and in peaceful reunification rather than non-peaceful alternatives.
I didn’t see any officials from China proselytizing Australians about the Taiwan issue. I did see a number of former prime ministers of Australia listed as honorary advisers to the council.
Basically Diamond and I hold opposing points of view. His expertise is not about China but he has been a strong cheerleader of the exercise of democracy in Taiwan.
He has said that a democratic form of government is more important than economic development. The recent election in Taiwan, as I have discussed, would suggest that his premise is in doubt.
The textbook description of democracy differs greatly from the real world. Professor Diamond should work with his students on how to remedy the gaping flaws in existing Western democracies, starting with the United States.
Orville Schell, on the other hand, has as good a set of “China hand” credentials as anyone. He is an accomplished author and journalist, but his views on China have shown unusual twists and turns – sometimes positive and at other times negative.
Perhaps his lack of consistency is due in part to being influenced by his friendship with the late Harry Wu – a relationship he has never publicly disavowed.
Schell is not the only one. As a charlatan pretending to be a human-rights activist, Wu fooled a lot of people. (Very few bothered to look deeper to see his feet of clay.)
Wu saw quite astutely that a lot of American politicians are predisposed to believe anything negative being said about China. He made a living telling lurid tales of China to that captive market.
Wu had the misfortune of drowning while cavorting in Honduras. That was how he avoided scheduled court appearances to face charges of graft and sexual misconduct, and we will never know all the sordid and salacious details of his life.
John Pomfret, the last named author of the letter, has lived in China and written about China. He has written a definitive study on the history of the relations between the US and China.
Beautiful country vs Middle Kingdom
He called his book The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which is an opportunistic translation of the Chinese names for the United States and China.
After reading his book, I came away feeling that he has a bias in which the beautiful country is just fine and the Middle Kingdom not so much.
One example should suffice. Pomfret talked about Danny Stillman, director of technical intelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who “took nine trips to nuclear-weapons installations in western China that no American had been before.”
Through his many trips into China, Stillman was able to compile a list of all of China’s nuclear-weapon tests. When he was ready to publish a book about his findings, “the Chinese pleaded with them” (Stillman had a co-author) not to include the page with the list.
What’s missing in Pomfret’s narrative is the fact that Stillman went into China at the invitation of Chinese scientists. The reader should ask, how else could he make nine separate trips into China’s nuclear-weapons installations or gather a list of weapon tests if not with Chinese cooperation?
My explanation: In accordance with the “Art of War,” China wanted the US to know about China’s state of nuclear-weapon development so that the Pentagon would not make a mistake in calculating the pros and cons of a nuclear confrontation.
Pomfret could also have noted that the publication of Stillman’s book was initially suppressed by the Clinton administration, as the US government was in midst of dealing with the Wen Ho Lee fiasco, in which Lee was accused of stealing missile technology for China.
To admit that at the same time that Lee was being excoriated, China had openly revealed their nuclear development activities to the US would have been awkward to say the least.
Suffice it to say that portraying the Chinese pleading with Stillman presented a very different picture than the Chinese proactively inviting Stillman’s visits to China’s weapon-development centers.
An antidote to paranoia
As a bicultural person, I see the perspective from both sides of the Pacific and I try to present a Chinese-American point of view – a point of view frequently missing in the US mainstream that can help Americans better understand China and the importance of the relationship.
The latest example of how the US can get carried away with paranoia is the alarm raised around the Chinese subway cars being assembled in Springfield, Massachusetts, for Boston.
The fear, first raised in The Washington Post, is the prospect of the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) installing spyware on the coaches. Imagine that, the horrors of Beijing listening in on every conversation in the subway car.
I first reported on Asia Times about the project: “The CRRC bid was at least 20% lower than competing bids from Canada and South Korea. There were no US bidders.
“In other words, the use of Chinese know-how will provide American cities with state of the art rail cars, at affordable prices, made with American labor, and resulting in the infrastructure improvements to make America great again.”
I even pointed out that the deal with CRRS would produce cars with more than 60% local (made in the US) content and qualify under President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” mandate.
In my view, the subway car deal is an excellent example of a win-win arrangement for the US and for China.
The Diamond letter states that he and his colleagues support my rights to free speech under the US constitution. I hope so, because I intend to continue to be a constructive contributor to the discussion on the future of the US-China relations.