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Yuks With Mr. Zhu - The Washington Post

Michael Kelly ()
April 14, 1999

Title: Yuks With Mr. Zhu
Author: Michael Kelly
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: April 14, 1999

The most interesting -- not to say the most repellent and most
frightening -- aspect of the press conference held on April 8 by
President Clinton and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji was not instantly

It was not the moment when Zhu was asked to respond to a question about
the "reunification" of Taiwan with the People's Republic of China. The
premier pointedly noted that Beijing had "never undertaken to renounce
the use of force in this regard." And he noted that "Abraham Lincoln,
in order to maintain the unity of the United States . . . resorted to
the use of force . . . so, I think Abraham Lincoln, president, is a
model, is an example."

Nor was it the moment when Zhu was asked to respond to "charges that
China stole nuclear warhead designs and perhaps neutron bomb technology
from the United States and also funneled hundreds of thousands of
dollars to President Clinton's reelection campaign."

To the charge of nuclear espionage, elaborately detailed in the New
York Times, Zhu joked that he was considering a suggestion that he
should order his government's missiles to be imprinted with a sign
"that they are made in China, not from the United States."

To reports that Johnny Chung, a Clinton 1996 campaign fund-raiser, had
testified before a federal grand jury that Chinese military
intelligence chief Gen. Ji Shengde had given him $300,000 for Clinton's
reelection ("We like your president," Ji reportedly said), Zhu got off
another excellent crack: "I have 146 billion U.S. dollars of foreign
exchange reserve, so I should have put out at least 10 billion U.S.
dollars for that purpose, why just $300,000? That would be too

Nor was the nadir reached when Zhu was asked to respond to U.S. State
Department criticisms of his government for human rights abuses. He
answered with a naked threat, calling a U.S.-supported draft resolution
by the U.N. Human Rights Commission censuring China, "interference in
China's internal affairs." That diplomatic term of art is recognized as
fighting talk. Zhu then tossed in another insult. He noted that friends
had urged him to deliver to Clinton "a lot of information about the
problems of human rights in the United States" -- but that he had not
done so, because he trusted that Clinton and America "are able to
resolve your own problems."

No, the really gross and scary aspect was how the man standing next to
Zhu responded to these remarks. Bill Clinton laughed with his guest.
That was polite, but it was also awful.

It was awful to see the president respond to a profound insult to a
predecessor in office by joking, "I think I have to just say one thing,
if I might, since I got zapped by Abraham Lincoln" -- and then blandly
answering Zhu's direct threat of war by reassuring him that "the United
States has a one-China policy."

It was awful as well to see how the president responded to Zhu's
sneering dismissals of charges that his government had stolen America's
nuclear secrets and had attempted to corrupt the American political
system. "You know," said Clinton, in his cracker-barrel thoughtful
voice, "China is a big country with a big government, and occasionally
things happen in this government that I don't know about."

Roll that answer around in your mind. Does Bill Clinton think that the
number two boss in the People's Republic of China might not know if his
government had engaged in nuclear espionage that allowed China to build
multiple-warhead missiles and an effective neutron bomb? Does he
believe that Zhu might not know if the director of his government's
military intelligence had ordered that $300,000 be contributed to
Clinton's reelection campaign? Or does Clinton believe that his own
government's investigators are leveling false charges?

Clinton said he had asked Zhu for "his cooperation" in pursuing these
matters. Zhu said he would cooperate as long as the United States "can
provide some clues." Does Clinton believe that the investigation by his
own Justice Department into the campaign finance illegalities has not
yet provided any clues? Does he believe the investigation by his own
Energy Department into China's spying has likewise failed to provide
any clues? Given that Zhu's government has blocked Justice and
congressional investigators from obtaining financial records from
China, has refused to grant visas to investigators and is refusing to
extradite subpoenaed witnesses, does he believe that Zhu is serious
about cooperation?

Or does he believe that these questions should never really be answered?
We wouldn't, after all, want to embarrass our good friend Zhu -- or his
good friend Bill.

(Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.)

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