Naughty China! Bad China!
Jude Wanniski
March 11, 1999


Memo To: Steve Forbes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Those inscrutable Chinese spies

Steve, if you really want to be President of the United States, you can't declare war on China because of something you read in The New York Times or watched on CNN. When I saw the story on Saturday'sfront page, I immediately suspected our old friends in the Military-Industrial Establishment for leaking this non-story to Jeff Gerth, the NYT top investigative reporter. Gerth, remember, is the fellow who broke the story in 1992 about Clinton and Whitewater, which led to a six-year investigation that turned up nothing at all that could be pinned on Bill or Hillary. When the smart guys begin peeling this onion, they are going to find out that the Chinese-American scientist who has worked at Los Alamos Nuclear Labs in New Mexico for 20 years is not a spy and that there was no espionage conducted. I say that with confidence, noting that the fellow has been dismissed from his job, but that no charges have been filed against him, because nobody has any evidence that he gave or sold anything to the Chinese.

Yes, it is nice to know that our old Cold Warrior friends in the GOP are still on the lookout for a WOLF, and that they cry WOLF! whenever they see a shadow in the bushes. But Steve, the President of the United States has to check out the shadow before he pulls the trigger. In this instance, for goodness sakes, the wolf allegedly shared some information with Chinese nuclear scientists 15 years ago. He says he did nothing wrong and refused to hire a lawyer. Because you were trained as a journalist, you should know better than to issue blustery statements demanding the resignation of Sandy Berger, the President's national security advisor, simply because Berger did not demand the firing of the scientist when he first heard the fellow may have talked to a Chinese scientist on a trip to China. The story looks especially fishy because it is so old, and it appears suddenly on the eve of PRC Premier Zhu Rongji's visit. The anti-China coalition, as usual, wants to stir up trouble. Is that to be your road to the Oval Office? The nuclear scientists I know are still trying to figure out from reading the papers what it is he is supposed to have done.

The only question I have, which I so far can't find an answer to, is why in 1993 the Clinton Administration decided to replicate the lab-to-lab exchange program we developed with Russia. We did find that program has worked beautifully, allowing us to keep track of the fissionable material becoming available as Russia downsizes from 30,000 warheads to 1,000. We don't want it to go to bad guys. There is no similar problem in China, which is why the open question seems relevant. My guess is that the answer will be benign. If we going to have a strategic partnership with China, which seems to me to be a good thing to have, we do have to exchange information with them on these sensitive matters. Now that the Vatican is on the verge of recognizing China, with Catholics burying the hatchet with Beijing, it is getting harder and harder to concoct anti-Chinese propaganda in that realm.

We certainly should get to the bottom of this "spy" story, to find out whether we really do have such serious problems with China that they must be considered our new ENEMY. But my guess is that this is just a "red herring," as Harry Truman would call it, dragged across the political path of the Democratic Party by Republicans who are trying to find an issue for 2000, to save their seats. This ain't gonna do it, Steve. You jumped into this with bluster, when a more statesmanlike position would have been better. Please take my advice as being constructive criticism. The American people will elect men and women who cry WOLF to positions in Congress, but are wary of putting trigger-happy gunslingers in the White House, especially during peacetime. Calm down. Do some reporting. Have a nice day.