December 20, 2002

Don't Believe the Hype

Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner is headed to Xinjiang after a couple of "very productive" days chatting with Chinese Human Rights counterparts. Craner plans on investigating alleged reports of abuse and oppression by Chinese authorities following the US announcement that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement was a band of no-good terrorists (possibly) funded by Bin Laden himself.

Of course, oppression prior to the addition of the East Turkestan group does not come into play. The US delegation is merely setting the record straight: No, it was not a scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours affair following 9/11.

The talks culminated in Beijing promising to allow UN monitors to enter China and make sure egregious acts of religious persecution or other acts of arbitrary torture aren't taking place. Crane seemed pleased. Of course, no comparison was made to the Chinese promise to halt weapons sales following the vilification of ETIM. Or to the Chinese promise to open all sorts of doors following WTO.

No matter how much evidence pops up linking Chinese companies to international arms sales and various missile development programs, ties between the US and the PRC remain on track. The two major reasons for this are:

China is currently quite neutral concerning the international aspect of the War on Terror, and the US government likes that. China is also the world's economic golden child, which US companies enjoy. China's neutrality is so important to US war plans that the Bush Administration is willing to let N. Korea flaunt whatever nuclear capabilities it may have and instead focus on vague "material breaches" by the Iraqis.

Bush's plans for a National Missile Defense and Japan's interest in researching and developing NMD as well will guarantee continued arms sales to "rogue" states by the Chinese. Selling weapons to US targets in the War on Terror is one way China can rectify any imbalance created by an NMD, regardless of how ineffective the missile shield may be. The difference between the Superpower and the Contender is the ability to state unequivocally: We are developing the NMD, as opposed to signing various declarations, and issuing various statements vowing to do one thing, while doing the other.

Craner's Human Rights delegation also displays confidence and power in heading for Xinjiang and announcing that the trip is meant to alleviate excess oppression. And the Chinese delegation follows suit by guiding the Americans to peaceful areas of the region populated by well-fed China-loving Uighers and declaring that the UN can stop by any time.

While these two teams of fools and liars head West, the Internet crackdown reaches new heights. Authors, activists and chatters find themselves in jail (or worse) with their families wondering what happened. Small netbars, hoping to escape the authorities are being closed down. The one I frequent used to have splendid access, now it's impossible to sit still while "Cannot Display" screens pop up left and right. Coincidence? Regulations announced last August are slowly making their way to the Provinces and the back-alleys of those Provinces. I fully expect to see my netbar replaced with a perfectly legal massage parlor before the year is out.

And what makes me giggle in my sleep are the stories of foreign businessmen arriving in China hoping to take advantage of the Wild West atmosphere only to be stripped of cash and shoes by bribe-taking politicians, scamming partners and various other grinning pockets along the way. Whatever laws and policies the government claims to have enacted are a joke on the ground ask anyone who lives here and no South China Morning Post advice column will help the intrepid entrepreneur make the millions he expected in this "land of milk and honey."

Of course, if you're Ford or BMW, the picture looks rosier you have enough money to survive the gauntlet of pockets.

In these days of bright lies swallowed by the masses along with a burger and fries, the only truth is that I lost big money betting on Yao Ming to flop in the NBA. Simple pleasures on the morning of a war.

–Sascha Matuszak

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Sascha Matuszak is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily, and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column (usually) appears Fridays.

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