With undisguised contempt

March 28, 1997|By Michael Kelly

WASHINGTON -- On the day after Vice President Gore lifted a glass of champagne to Premier Li Peng, the butcher of Tiananmen, a mid-level member of the Clinton administration's foreign policy team marveled at his bosses in the White House.

''Is there any moral fiber left in these guys?'' he wondered. ''Does it bother them at all that Li Peng is utterly unrepentant for what he did at Tiananmen? Does it bother them that, when we talk about human rights and China we are talking about an emerging power's unwillingness to abide by fundamental norms of democracy? Just because free-market Stalinism hasn't existed before doesn't mean that it cannot exist.''

Then he answered his own questions. ''It doesn't matter to them. It's all trade. Trade is the be-all and end-all of this administration's foreign policy. All they care about is the money.''

The last important totalitarian power on the planet is ruled with ruthless authority by -- as Bill Clinton the candidate put it in 1992 -- ''aging rulers with undisguised contempt for democracy [and] human rights.'' Threatened by democracy in 1989, those aging rulers responded by gunning down and running over unarmed citizens in Beijing. Those same aging rulers have already destroyed much of Hong Kong's political freedom, and will destroy the rest soon enough.

China is also the leading state exponent of religious persecution in the world today, as Freedom House's Nina Shea has documented in her book ''In the Lion's Den.''

Acting under Regulations 144 and 145, which were promulgated by Li Peng on January 31, 1994, forbidding independent religious worship, Chinese police have in recent years destroyed or forced shut hundreds of Christian churches. There have been numerous credible reports of Protestant evangelicals and Roman Catholic priests arrested, beaten, tortured and killed by the authorities. In Tibet there are similarly credible reports of a campaign of imprisonment and torture of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

The Chinese regime openly regards the United States as its ZTC chief enemy. In a meeting in 1994 of Communist Party chiefs, as Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro have written, the party announced its goal to establish ''a global anti-hegemonist united front at an opportune moment.''

That hegemony, that's us. The main address at the party gathering was given by the People's Liberation Army chief of staff, Zhang Wannian, who declared: ''Facing blatant interference by the American hegemonists in our internal affairs and their open support for the debilitating activities of hostile elements inside our country and hostile forces outside the mainland and overseas opposing and subverting our socialist system, we must reinforce the armed forces more intensively.''

Buying and spying

And China's government is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly conducting a massive campaign to influence American policy toward China and Taiwan by pumping millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions into political campaigns, including the one that won Al Gore re-election. China's attempt to subvert American policy by buying influence runs hand in hand with its campaign of industrial espionage in the United States.

Li Peng, the architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the man to whom the vice president now offers a glass in amity, is believed by ''many Chinese,'' according to the late Sinophile writer Harrison Salisbury, to be ''inclined to the old Stalinist ways.''

He has a gift for remorselessness. He has gone out of his way to insult and to taunt the U.S. government. He is convinced, not without reason, that Washington will never do anything more than imprecate. Trade, he is sure, certainly will never become an instrument of American pressure.

Mr. Li must have had a few anxious moments in 1992. Candidate Clinton swore that he would, as president, revoke trading rights with China as ''long as they're locking people up.'' At first it looked as if the new president actually meant it. Mr. Clinton signed an order giving China a year to ''significantly improve'' its human-rights record, or lose its trading status as a Most Favored Nation. But American business complained mightily, and the administration began backing off.

In March 1994, Beijing tried a test insult. The assistant secretary of state for human rights, John Shattuck, accompanying Secretary of State Warren Christopher on the Clinton administration's first high-level trip to China, met a Chinese democratic dissident, Wei Jingsheng, in a Beijing hotel. Li Peng responded by ordering a mass roundup and imprisonment of democracy activists and human-rights dissidents while Mr. Christopher was still in the country. What would America do?

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