Memories short when dealing with China


It doesn't pay to have a memory. It will only cause you grief.

It will profit you not at all, for instance, to recall what happened in China two years ago last week.

There is no sense in remembering the events that occurred in Tiananmen Square. How, according to one account, "soldiers opened fire indiscriminately with automatic weapons on unarmed students and workers."

How, according to another account, "Tanks crushed to death several students who remained huddled in the tents set up on the plaza. . . . Tanks crushed students who had linked arms in a last-ditch embrace of the snow-white Goddess of Democracy, a replica of the Statue of Liberty."

There is no profit in remembering the slaughter of these Chinese students, who so loved the principles of freedom and democracy represented by our Statue of Liberty that they would be crushed to death defending them.

And who, indeed, remembers them today? Hardly anybody. To most of us, Tiananmen Square was just another TV show. And we've had lots of others since, including the gulf war TV show, which was a lot more impressive.

George Bush is counting on America's short-term memory problem as he insists on honoring China with most-favored-nation trade status. At the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the official policy of the United States was one of outrage. But that was quickly replaced by our ongoing official policy of forgetfulness.

Within five months of the slaughter, George Bush dispatched his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to China to toast the health of Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader and the Butcher of Tiananmen Square.

Everybody had a pleasant dinner even though China was then rounding up student leaders, giving them show trials and then shooting them in the back of the head.

But Bush said then, as he says now, that he doesn't want to "isolate" China from the world community. Bush was America's envoy to China in 1974-1975 and be believes he understands China like he understands no other country.

So he continues to support most-favored-nation status for it, which makes it cheap and easy for China to export goods to the United States. And China does so. So much so that it sells to America $10 billion more in goods than America sells to China, a trade surplus expected to be surpassed this year only by Japan.

And what does China do to deserve this kind of treatment? Well, it practices repression at home, including forced labor and religious persecution. It also sells advanced weaponry abroad, including, some believe, nuclear weaponry to whomever can afford to pay for it.

But let's forget about that. Forgetfulness makes foreign policy easy.

This is something Bush learned from Ronald Reagan. In 1985, Reagan went to Germany to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II.

He went to a Bitburg and laid a wreath in a cemetery containing the graves of 49 SS soldiers.

The SS was an elite, all-volunteer Nazi organization, a group responsible for the murder of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill and American prisoners of war.

But Ronald Reagan said he was laying the wreath in the "spirit of reconciliation." Reconciliation to Ronald Reagan meant forgetfulness.

"Instead of reawakening memories," he said, "maybe we should observe this day as the day when 40 years ago peace began and friendship."

The memories that Reagan did not wish to reawaken were 40 years old. The memories that George Bush does not wish to reawaken in favoring China are but two years old.

This is what we call progress. And expediency. There is money to be made by dealing with China. There is money to be made by not awakening bad memories with a lot of countries.

And history? Well, what did history ever do for our pocketbooks?

This December will mark the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

This will raise all sorts of bad memories that we would be better off forgetting.

And I think I have figured out how the Bush administration will manage to commemorate Pearl Harbor without disturbing the Japanese:

We'll sell it to them.

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