We have all heard the joke, I’m sure, about the couple who had been dating for a long time, and the lady figures her man needs a little hint to get him to pop the question. So there they are at a fine restaurant, he’s ordering beef and rice for both of them, when the waiter asks if the rice should be fried or boiled. “Honey,” our slow suitor asks. “How do you prefer your rice?” She seizes her opportunity and answers: “Thrown.”
Well, there was enough rice thrown at the White House last week to keep a Las Vegas chapel in business for a year of Valentine’s Days. The Chinese Premier arrived for a love fest, a regular Hu’s hoot amid all the dignitaries. The President was lauding the newfound openness of Chinese society and appealing for more openness, all in an open spirit of open-minded dialogue open to all… hey, who’s that chick screaming in the Press corps? Quick, shut off the TV feed.
Hey, hey, hey, what have we here? An oppressed person? A repressed person? A depressed person? Trying to become an expressed person? Fine. But not by pretending to be a press person. So off with her head! Or at least the modern, bureaucratic version of such excess, which is a six-month jail sentence.
To review the facts, it went thusly. Premier Hu was beginning to deliver an address about the great friendship between our peoples yadda yadda yadda, when suddenly a woman reporter (Wang Wenyi, a doctor of pathology) began shouting: “President Hu, stop the killing! President Bush, make him stop the killing! President Hu, your days are numbered!” She is a member of Falun Gong, a religious group that is persecuted by the Chinese government with tactics that reportedly include torture and murder.
Apparently it was not enough that the police had her removed afterwards. Not enough that Chinese TV cut off the broadcast of the event until after she was subdued. Not enough that President Bush apologized to Hu for his being discomfited. It was necessary, right here in the U.S. of A., in the land of the free and the home of the brave, to arrest this menace to society before she could wreak havoc on defenseless visiting tyrants. She is being charged with “willingly intimidating or disrupting a foreign official”, says Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry. This carries a maximum sentence of six months.
So poor Hu, all intimidated and disrupted, gets to return home to pull the wings off flies or whatever dictators do for recreation, while a decent woman, a New York City doctor who put her conscience ahead of her career for a day, has to face federal prison. What am I missing here? Somehow I thought that this was not what America should look like in 2006 with the party of Lincoln in power. I don’t often find myself in agreement with the Washington Post editorial page; usually I can count on the White House to spare me that rather unpleasant condition.
Let’s face it. Diplomacy with creepy regimes often breeds cheesy talk, tacky public appearances and sleazy business arrangements. Sometimes Hu’s on first and our “What?” comes second. We hold our noses and trust that our elected and appointed officials can tell where the puff and fluff leave off and reality begins. For example, President Bush used the occasion of this meeting to ask for China’s assistance in dissuading Iran and North Korea from expanding their nuclear programs. If any policy guy in the administration really believes that it might be in China’s interest to do that, he’s an idiot. If he believes that it’s not in their interest but they’ll do it anyway to promote friendship with the U.S., then he’s a supreme idiot. But we, as intelligent onlookers, figure this is all meaningless, or at best some kind of veiled (but sadly toothless) warning to China not to help those guys.
All of that confidence in the judgment of our policymakers wanes a bit when they hand a woman like this off to law enforcement to be dealt with severely. Throwing rice at Hu is fine, in its context. But throwing the book at Dr. Wang? Not nice at all. Not the right message. We’re out there in Afghanistan and Iraq, conducting a broad-based international seminar on freedom. We’re throwing our book of ethics out there, not to mention Secretary Rice. Let’s drop the charges against this lady and show the world how it’s done.