Family ties

December 14, 2003

TODAY'S lesson in how the world shouldn't work begins with a question: What do these three men have in common?

Jiang Mianheng, the son of Chinese senior leader and military head Jiang Zemin.

Winston Wong, son of Wang Yung-ching, chairman of Taiwan's largest conglomerate.

Neil Bush, the 48-year-old younger brother of President Bush.

It's simple: They're all big stakeholders in a mainland Chinese company, Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., a start-up with huge ambitions that needs U.S. approval to import an advanced level of American computer equipment.

The president's brother was brought into Grace last year with a $2 million contract, $400,000 a year in stock for five years.

There's no sign of President Bush's involvement. But - if not access to American power - it's hard to figure what the first two partners expect in return, particularly as the younger Mr. Bush admitted this year in a deposition that he has no background in computers. Before this, his business renown was chiefly from getting banned from running banks in 1990 because of his role in mismanaging a Denver savings and loan.

Talk about guanxi, the Chinese term for connections often forged with the intent of gaining favors - particularly from those in power. That's still the way business is conducted in China even as it has shifted to a raw form of state-sponsored capitalism.

But by American standards, it seems like a payoff. The deal has not been found illegal, but it is without question wholly unacceptable for the brother of the president to be handed such a windfall.

Not incidentally, its revelation last month came just before the president bent U.S. policy to the mainland's will - by warning Taiwan not to anger Beijing with any moves toward independence. That shift last week of course has nothing do with his brother. But - beyond needing Chinese help with North Korea - it had a lot to do with the degree to which the economic interests of American corporations are increasingly aligned with China.

In all fairness, both sides of the Taiwan Strait play this game: The younger Bush was rumored to have received $1 million this fall to give Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian a 30-minute meeting in New York.

Sure, we know the president's brother is something of - how shall we put it? - a character, like so many presidential brothers. There was Roger Clinton and cocaine, and before him Billy Carter's beer-soaked foibles. With word of the China deal leaking from Mr. Bush's divorce proceedings, he's already providing that more typical sort of titillation.

But his $2 million deal is not just embarrassing for the president and this country. It's an outrage. The president ought to rein in his brother. If not, voters should add that to things remembered next fall.

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