Commentary/William Safire 

China holds ace in the hole with Clinton 

Wednesday, June 24, 1998

By WILLIAM SAFIRE, New York Times News Service 

WASHINGTON - Never has a U.S. president traveled to Beijing at such a disadvantage: Bill Clinton has reason to suspect that the Chinese leaders possess information about "the China connection" to his campaigns, but he does not know what it is. 

He knows that they know much more than anyone about the penetration of the White House by Asian fronts for Chinese intelligence. They have all the details about Indonesia's Riady family's long-term investment in his career, and probably of instructions to influence his post-election change of trade policy. 

Clinton must assume it is in China's interest to provide an escape hatch for 50 fleeing witnesses, to deny being the source of millions in campaign contributions and to keep secret Democratic money laundering done by Hong Kong and Macao banks. China will want to conceal from the Justice Department and Congress the illegal donations to, and policy penetration of, the White House and DNC. 

In obstructing any investigation, the interests of China run parallel to those of this compromised U.S. president. Both Clinton and the Chinese want nothing further to come out. Accept, if you wish, the protestations of Clinton defenders that his campaign organization was duped by John Huang, Charlie Trie and Maria Hsia, and was ignorant of the source of the Asian funds solicited from Johnny Chung. Buy, if you like, the notion that the payments had nothing to do with flip-flops on trade and the technology-transfer triumph over the Pentagon by anything-goes Commerce. 

But even if China's quid was not "solely" responsible for Clinton's quo, the fact remains that secret Chinese money passed and U.S. policy changed. The unspoken truth haunting this summit is that China's leaders have something on this president. 

Would they use this illicit leverage to gain a concession? Of course not; Chinese diplomacy can be exquisitely subtle. No winks of understanding will be needed. 

In this charade, Clinton will formally ask the Chinese to cooperate with the Congress and the Department of Justice, and China's Jiang will formally promise to help. Perhaps an expendable non-official middleman will be designated to take a gentle fall, helping Janet Reno to avoid having to seek independent counsel. And the relieved Clinton will owe Jiang a big one. 

In light of his personal negotiating difficulty, and recognizing the need for the U.S. to exchange summit visits with a major power, what can we reasonably ask our president to do? 

1. Before leaving for Beijing, stop claiming that all critics seek only to "isolate" a billion people. Clinton's tired straw-man argument insults both human-rights activists and hard-line strategists, and such divisive defensiveness only invites a countercharge of appeasement and fans suspicions of collusion. 

2. On arrival, don't waste your mandatory human-rights message on the accompanying press corps. Instead, insist on making it a major theme of your live broadcast-telecast to the Chinese people, and be sure the interpreter is our man. Meet and be photographed with authentic dissidents and offer to host a White House meeting between Jiang and the Dalai Lama. 

3. In negotiations, deal with verification of promises to curtail the spread of nukes and missiles; don't try to con the world with a phony public relations stunt of "re-targeting" missiles. We all know they can be aimed again at U.S. cities within 10 minutes - and now much more accurately, thanks to the victory of Clinton Commerce and the big donors over at the Pentagon. 

4. Surface the concern in our intelligence community with experiments in China to gain the ability to combat our "critical infrastructure." A brigade of official hackers with the mission of destroying our computer communications and satellites is even more worrisome than a beachhead in Long Beach, Calif. 

5. Try financial jujitsu. When China threatened to devalue its yuan unless the U.S. and Japan bolstered the yen, the U.S. jumped to do Beijing's bidding. Now Clinton should heap praise on Chinese "economic stability" - making it harder for China to devalue when the pressure in Japan builds again. 

Finally, let Jiang know that the next U.S. president might not be so vulnerable to revelations of Chinese manipulation, and will not forget any advantage taken of this one. 

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