Vice President Al Gore's visit to China looked like an installment payment on money allegedly funneled into his and President Clinton's reelection coffers, either directly by the Chinese government which they (surprise!) deny, or indirectly through "businessmen" with close ties to Beijing.
Clearly embarrassed by the negative publicity surrounding China-gate, Mr. Gore's staff first attempted to limit press coverage of the trip by refusing to charter a press plane. Their excuse was that the charter would cost too much. Where is Harry Thomasson and his charter service when you need him?
When reporters flew commercial, access to Mr. Gore was strictly limited. Mr. Gore's press people said restrictions were imposed by the Chinese, which seems curious since state-owned television broadcast the visit nationwide.
All politicians are sometimes forced to make compromises or eat their words in the face of changing realities, but when they compromise on matters of principle and conscience, it is fair to ask whether they stand for anything.
In 1989, in the aftermath of the massacre of pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square, Sen. Al Gore spoke against the Bush Administration's decision to send emissaries to Beijing. During a debate on the Senate floor over the Emergency Chinese Immigration Relief Act, Mr. Gore said, "a brutal dictatorship murdered [the demonstrators] because they spoke out for the ideals of the American dream." He said the base of our true strength is not in military might, but in "ideas, principles, and values."
Mr. Gore was just getting warmed up when he added: "The fundamental issue is whether it is more important for our nation to build its future relations with China on the basis of our faith in that country's rising generation, a generation which believes in freedom, a generation that was violently put down in Tiananmen Square; or on the basis of our fear of displeasing the old generation still clinging to power by virtue of violence and terror alone, the generation that massacred its young rather than yield to its pleas for freedom."
Doesn't that sound like principle? Would Mr. Gore flip on the environment? The message from Beijing is maybe he would if the campaign cash started to flow from polluters.
In that same Senate speech, Mr. Gore said: "The message is, 'If you think we will forget what has happened and if you think we will allow things to go back to normal for the sake of convenience or great power politics, forget it ... we will be here to welcome freedom when it arrives in China.' ... if the present leadership of China doesn't like that fact about us, we'll live with the consequences."
What was it, then, the Vice President was toasting as he raised a glass of champagne with Prime Minister Li Peng, the man who presided over the Tiananmen massacre less than eight summers ago? It wasn't the arrival of freedom. It was the arrival of business. To Mr. Gore and Mr. Li, the color of money is sufficient to cover the stain of the martyrs' blood.
Sen. Gore returned to the subject in 1991. During a debate over U.S. policy on Iraq and the Bush Administration's position that the United States could have only minimal influence on Iraq's internal affairs, Mr. Gore criticized such thinking: "It is the way [President Bush] reacted to the Government of China after Tiananmen Square. He placed so much importance on that principle that he sent close associates to have a very pleasant exchange of views and even raise their glasses in toast to those who were responsible for Tiananmen Square, very soon after the tragedy occurred."
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who is Mr. Gore's likely rival for the next Democratic presidential nomination, is mimicking Mr. Gore's former position. Mr. Gephardt says he'll oppose most favored nation trading status for China, partly because of its human rights record. He has even called for a greater role for Congress in deciding China's admissibility to the World Trade Organization. But who knows whether, if elected President, Gephardt might pull a Gore and switch positions?
copyright 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate