Stories from the New China (and beyond)

Freeman is OUT

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Yesterday was Purim, and appropriately enough for the conspiracy-minded, Chas Freeman resigned as the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

If you want a quick postmortem (I don’t want to dwell on this either), check out the WP editorial. The China human rights crowd may have actually done the lion’s share of the work here. I haven’t looked at the Newsweek piece that the WP references–something about Pelosi being “incensed” by Freeman’s statements on Tiananmen–but perhaps there’s some life in Pelosi yet? And did the Obama admin reveal their China card too early?

UPDATE: I should mention that my own minuscule contribution to the Freeman pile-on was published in this week’s Weekly Standard.  It’s worth reading anyway because my point was much wider than one man: The Obama administration has sent clear signals to the Chinese leadership that they are no longer interested in human rights and democracy in China. The consequences will be truly horrific.

So of course, Freeman’s resignation does not solve the problem, but, as I stated above, it may help. Particularly if it has begun the process of galvanizing congressional opposition.

FURTHER UPDATE: Also see Michael Golfarb’s excellent summary on the Weekly Standard Blog: The Liberal Cabal. Michael has been at the forefront of the Freeman investigation/take down; he reinforces the evidence that the China-critics were actually a greater factor than the Israel lobby in Freeman’s untenable position.

ONE MORE UPDATE: D.J. McGuire makes a good case that I am being too pessimistic and his comparison with the Soviet dissident movement’s predicament under Carter is inspired.


OK, I do want to dwell on this just a little longer. Starting with an excerpt from “Losing the New China”:

“I admired Laurence because he was not using one or two, but all three of the strategies of a friend of China. He not only towed the Party Line, he was a credible spokesman for it. He brought gifts; he had assisted major American corporations with market entry and relentlessly encouraged China investment. And he did not neglect flattery – the Red Capital empire, indeed, his entire lifestyle, was a totemic expression of confidence in the once and future dominance of Chinese culture. One night, after too many drinks at the Red Capital Club, I asked him what drove him. Was it, I asked quietly, the aesthetics of Chinese totalitarianism? Yes, he replied, smiling. Since I had a kind of voyeuristic fascination with Chinese fascist iconography myself, that made two of us, I thought. Except that Brahm was actually creating the stuff.”

When I was a business consultant in Beijing, I worked with many Friends of China. The one I’m describing above, Laurence Brahm, was an extreme example, but Freeman fits the general profile. Freeman backed the Party line-in private correspondence to influential China policy-hands in Washington, and in public by describing the Tibetan uprising last year as a “race-riot.” As an advisor to CNOOC (the state-owned Chinese oil company that attempted to buy Unocal) Freeman tried to bring gifts to the Chinese leadership, even if some of them didn’t work out. But it’s the third strategy, flattery, that really counts.

Flattery of Chinese Communist officials is part of doing business in China. It’s ritualized, for example, in the American Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Government Appreciation Dinner.” My old boss described the dinner (privately of course, and using his trademark old-school  British-imperial accent to full effect) to me this way: Government Officials! Trousers down!!-Gentlemen! Commence kissing!!

But ultimately prostitutes chafe. Like most of us, Chinese officials want real passion.

Friends of China will be familiar with the gist of Freeman’s argument on Tiananmen, that it is unacceptable “for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be.” As I pointed out in the Weekly Standard, that particular trope was originally laid down by Henry Kissinger. Even today, many American expats will blurt out something similar when they feel cornered by a visiting countryman at a Beijing cocktail party. The only difference here is that Freeman took the argument all the way: If the student demonstration is unacceptable, shouldn’t the Chinese government have intervened, in force, earlier? Freeman’s appointment as Chairman of the National Intelligence was scuttled because Freeman not only meant it, he said it publicly.

That’s the expat dilemma. If you really want to be successful in China, it helps to really believe–to exult in China’s rise, in the Chinese leadership, and in the Party itself. If the submission becomes an act of free will, one is no longer a prostitute. Unquestioning acceptance of the existing power structure-or better yet, the inevitable power structure of the future-facilitates submission and exultation, a liberation from weak, feminine, attachments to human rights and worrying about how the little people will vote and other such sissified concerns–concerns that have nothing to do with actual power.

Of course, you are not supposed to show any of this submission, exultation, passion and so on, publicly. Not in the West. Foreign policy realism can provide a rational cover to defend the Party without looking like you have gone balmy. But Freeman didn’t care. He showed his passion. That took guts.

So let’s acknowledge Freeman’s courage. But let’s also acknowledge how strange it is that a man with such a polymorphous attraction to fascism found himself that close to the President.

Written by eastofethan

March 12, 2009 at 11:29 pm

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