CONASON: Following the Money Requires a Long March
Deng Xiaoping liked to say that it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, but whether it catches mice. The late Chinese dictator's pragmatism was appropriate to American politics, based on the principle that like his country, we have only one political party -- ours being the party of money.This has been true since the days of the China Lobby, when we liked Chiang Kai-shek and the money his agents poured into the Senate campaigns of Richard Nixon and other Republicans, and it is true now, when we are treated to equally unappetizing tales of the Communist regime's friends dropping off checks at the White House for the Democratic National Committee.The bitter irony for Bill Clinton is that on matters Chinese, he has obediently followed the advice of conservative business leaders and Republican foreign policy experts to pursue trade with Beijing at the expense of human rights. Having won their point early on in his Presidency, these same forces now suggest that Mr. Clinton is corrupt because he did precisely what they advocated. By dumping his campaign promise to press for democratic reforms in China, he earned this karmic comeuppance long before he allowed his White House to become a photo-op backdrop for Chinese military officials and their favorite con men.Still, his betrayal of principle scarcely excuses the hypocrisy on the other side. When Deng was still in power, the same cultivation of guanxi, or official connections, simply occurred at a higher level. Such petty subterfuges as illegally disguised contributions and small-time "face" hustles would have been too embarrassing and obvious for a Republican Administration. Instead of maneuvers by foreign companies with Asian owners, which arouse nativist suspicions, the preferred method of the Chinese in those days was to do business directly with Americans who seemed above reproach. The leading exemplar of this style was Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State turned corporate adviser. The great diplomat would land in Beijing with a top insurance executive, for instance, seeking commercial opportunities. Those opportunities would materialize in due course, and Mr. Kissinger and the insurance executive would return to the United States to endorse the lifting of sanctions on the Chinese regime, regardless of the atrocities it was committing in Tiananmen Square or Tibet. The Republicans in the White House would agree, and the insurance executive -- and many other corporate leaders interested in making money in China -- would make big donations to the Republican Party. And they did.Or President Bush's brother Prescott Bush, another blue-chip consultant, would fly to China with the intention of turning a buck -- more specifically, about 750,000 bucks. His client, Assets Management International Ltd., was a New York firm that wanted to set up a sophisticated communications network and other ventures there, but then came the Tiananmen massacre in June 1989. By the end of the year, however, the President had determined that the best course would be to allow the sale of two Hughes Aircraft satellites to China whose launching would benefit the plans of his brother's client, and he signed a national security waiver making the deal possible. If Hughes Aircraft then decided to continue its longtime habit of contributing to the G.O.P., so much the better.The benefits of guanxi naturally run in both directions. Considering the fuss that the New York Post and the Weekly Standard are raising over Mr. Clinton's fund raising, it is worth recalling an example of reverse guanxi that involved old Deng quite directly. A few years ago, Harper Collins Publishers, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the Post and the Standard, paid a substantial advance to the dictator's daughter for her unbelievably dull biography of her bloody-handed father. Lacking any important thoughts or revelations, its prose congealed by Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong jargon, her 472-page Deng-pile had less hope of paying for itself than a collection of the best Post editorials. Not to worry, though: Mr. Murdoch was then seeking broadcast licenses from the People's Republic which were worth many hundreds of book advances. And he got them. So by all means let us condemn the Democrats for their clumsy coddling of John Huang, Johnny Chung and any other would-be agents of influence for foreign powers, even though the Democrats have examined those dubious contributors and sent the money back. Let us demand an investigation that "gets to the bottom" of any attempt by the Chinese regime to influence American elections, even though we have regularly corrupted the democratic processes of other countries for decades, and still do. And if that investigation finds real evidence of espionage or political payoffs or hush money, unlikely as that now seems, let us hope that it will be prosecuted without fear or favor.But please, let's not pretend even for a moment that these exercises have anything to do with freedom or democracy or the struggle against totalitarianism. Those aims were abandoned decisively when Mr. Clinton ratified the bipartisan consensus established by his predecessors, and abandoned the brave democrats of China to ensure that not one dollar of commerce would be forfeit.