It seems as though the Cold War was 'the good old days'By SAM BUNDY, Freelance columnist
Sunday, May 6, 2012
I miss the days of the Cold War. At least then we knew who our enemies were and could plan accordingly. If one of theirs wanted to defect, all they had to do was come to our embassy and ask for asylum. The defection became a major political coup, a chance to stick it to the bad guys. Recent events, however, have underlined how things have changed in a big way.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, a lawyer, fell into disfavor with the Chinese government over his vocal opposition to the forced abortions and sterilizations as a part of the country's "One Child" law. He spent time in prison. After his release, he was kept under house arrest, but somehow he managed to escape. Though being blind, he made his way to the American Embassy in Beijing. From there the facts get a little fuzzy.
Several published reports indicated that Chen voluntarily left the embassy to go to a hospital for treatment and to be reunited with his family. One official said Chen never asked for asylum and expressed his desire to stay in China. After his trip to the hospital, Chen apparently changed his mind. A CNN report stated he called on the U.S. to "protect human rights" and help him and his family leave China.
Now that he's no longer in the embassy, he's at the mercy of a Chinese government that is seething over the embarrassment this incident has caused while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the country for high level talks. Tiananmen Square taught us that despite the world's attention, the Chinese government will stop at nothing to put down dissent, but things are different now.
The Chen incident is a very real example of the very real change that has taken place in the world over the past couple of decades. There was a time not so long ago the United States would have been able to use this event to highlight the human rights violations in China and take the moral high ground by offering Chen asylum. There would have been a diplomatic uproar, and blustering on all sides, but we would have once again established ourselves as the moral compass and voice for freedom in the world. But that was before capitalism came to China.
Like it or not, in this modern world of intertwined economies, the United States and China have a close partnership. We have jobs producing stuff for them to buy and they have jobs producing stuff for us to buy. Major U.S. corporations like Ford and GM have invested heavily in China, selling cars to the rising middle class.
China has also become a major player in global politics. The reason Secretary Clinton is there is to ask for help in dealing with two trouble spots in the world, Iran and North Korea, places where China has great influence.
We also can't forget that China holds the largest amount of U.S. debt than any other country in the world. One estimate I read put the figure at $1.2 trillion dollars. That's about 8 percent of the total $14.1 trillion dollar deficit (as of 2011). Japan holds the second largest amount, over $900-billion.
With our fragile economy and continuing war in Afghanistan, the last thing we need right now is standoff with one of our largest trading partners and potential world-leadership rivals. As much as neither side wants to admit it, we need each other if our economies are going to grow and our people are going to eat.
For this 20th century mind, all the nuances of a 21st century global economy are hard to grasp. I still find it hard to accept that what happens in Greece or Portugal can have an impact on my pocketbook, but it does. This Brave New Economy has also reshaped alliances and politics. It is forcing us to make hard choices for the good of our people and our economy, not our ideals or morality.
Technology is leveling the playing field for everyone, so it is just a matter of time (and not much at that) where once-titled Third World nations will begin to flex their economic muscles. I saw it first hand when I spent 10 days in Burkina Faso, Africa. I also learned of China's growing influence in African nations, nations it sees as future economic partners.
So when a dissident arrives at our embassy in China, it is no longer a clear cut case of Us vs. Them, the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys. It is Partner vs. Partner where both sides are afraid of what might happen if it does go back to Us vs. Them and will do what it takes to make sure that doesn't happen.
As I write this, there's the possibility a deal might be made to allow Chen and his family to leave China. If so, that would further underline how delicate and complicated our relationship to China has become. They don't want this incident to draw attention to their own internal human rights violations while we don't want to offend them and possibly hurt our economic ties, so there's a flurry of diplomatic discussions and deal making going on right now to resolve this issue so everybody can be happy.
I miss the days of the Cold War.
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Sam Bundy is a freelance contributor to Tri-County Sunday/the Courier-Express. He is a teacher at DuBois Area High School, and is a pastor at an area church. He lives near Reynoldsville. E-mail: email@example.com. His blog can be found at : http://sbundy76.blogspot.com/
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