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A chronic disease — dormant for over 20 years — has flared up again in Washington, DC. Not a medical malady but a political disorder, the China Syndrome afflicts both Republicans and Democrats. However, the symptoms differ markedly between members of those two parties. Among Republicans, the symptoms include a compulsion to point a finger and mutter accusations of wrongdoing regarding the relationship between the United States and China. Among Democrats, the symptoms include obsessive fear and the inability to remember that the truth is always the best defense against a verbal attack.
A half-century ago, Communists lead by Mao Tse-Tung drove Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists out of China and into Taiwan. Then, among the Republicans, symptoms of the China Syndrome were the accusatory question: "Who lost China?" and a finger pointed at any Democrat brave enough to seek election to office.
Among the Democrats, symptoms included hiding from their own shadows. They were so afraid that any response to the Republican accusations might cause them to be labeled as Communists they failed to point out that China never was a U. S. possession that could be lost. No one was brave enough to tell the truth, that the Communists took over in China because Chiang Kai-Shek and his friends were corrupt despots who no longer had the support of their own people.
Well into the 1970s, no Democrat could publicly support diplomatic relations or trade with Communist China and survive in office. It took Republican President Nixon to establish relations. After all, even if infected with the China Syndrome, no Republican would point the finger and mutter the accusation at a President from his or her own party. With Nixon's normalizing of relations with "Red" China, the infection went into remission for over 20 years.
Now, with the discovery of Chinese espionage targeting the United States' nuclear weapons laboratories, the China Syndrome infects a new generation of politicians. The Republicans point their fingers at President Clinton's administration and demand resignations, muttering their accusations through the report of Representative Christopher Cox (R, CA) and his Select Committee on U.S. National Security. As with the earlier infection, the Democrats are so defensive they seem to be trying to become invisible. Craziness!
Democrats should be on the offense, not the defense. The espionage began and caused some of its worst damage under Republican presidents, whose administrations kept the problem hidden. Clinton's failing was not that he allowed espionage but that he allowed the existence and scope of the espionage to become public. In the meantime, Congressman Cox's report is so filled with inaccuracies and errors (as reported by ABC News), that it is painfully obvious that neither the Select Committee's staff who prepared it nor the Congressmen who approved it really understand the issues. Yes, each error is minor and not very significant; but the total weight of all the errors makes me question the report's validity.
5 June 1999
The China Syndrome may be responsible for our nation's tragedy in Vietnam. In the 1960s, the Republicans were still pointing a tired finger and whining "Who lost China?" No Democrat president could risk having that accusation evolve into "Who lost Vietnam?" So President Kennedy slowly increased our involvement there; President Johnson followed-up with a commitment to a total war that geography and indiginous politics clearly indicated could not be won. As with China in the 1950s, no Democrat leader was brave enough to tell the public that Vietnam was not ours to lose.
I hope that Congressman Cox and his allies restrain their finger-pointing and accusations, lest they provoke their targets into another rash international adventure.
12 June 1999
David Ross home