Most Gracious Guest

Webb picked an odd time to curry favor with China

Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute.

National Review Online, Updated April 5, 2001 1:40 p.m. More by Kopel on China.

While 24 Americans are held captive in Communist China, one American has the opportunity to show the Chinese leadership that continuing lucrative trade with the United States is contingent on obeying minimum standards of international law. But that one American is doing just the opposite.

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has been in China on a taxpayer-funded trade mission since last week. Webb rejected the idea of coming home early as "myopic" and said that it "is appropriate" for him to keep on courting the Chinese government.

Webb's justifications for staying bordered on the ludicrous. First, "I haven't seen any changes (in the treatment of Americans in China)."

Of course Webb's 47-person delegation continues to enjoy fine treatment. If Webb wants to see changes in how Americans are treated, he might inquire about making a side trip to Hainan Island.

Second, Webb says, "I've not seen anyone at the State Department ask Boeing to leave, or Ford or Starbucks or any other business." But unlike Starbucks or other American companies with permanent offices in China, Webb is just a temporary visitor, and he was planning on leaving eventually anyway; the only question is whether he might leave (or threaten to leave) a few days early. Webb, of course, is free to leave China whenever he wants — a right under international law that is currently being denied to 24 other Americans.

Tuesday afternoon, while President Bush was announcing that American patience was running out, Webb visited Tiananmen Square — thus allowing the Chinese media to show the Chinese people that Americans have short memories about human rights violations and murder.

Not once since arriving in China (or while preparing for the trip), has Webb said a single word about human rights. "The federal government's got to do that," he claims. "My goal is to enhance our business relationships."

Yet Mayor Webb has used his local office to campaign for human rights. As Mayor, he enforced Denver's sanctions against the apartheid government in South Africa. In 1992, he blasted the Colorado governor's trade office for even contemplating a trip to South Africa.

What's the difference between South Africa and China? Well, South Africa practiced racial discrimination. China practices slave labor.

As Colorado AFL-CIO head Bob Greene points out, "Most of the products coming into this country (from China) are made with child labor or prison labor." Chinese dissident Harry Wu explains: "The exploitation of forced labor in the Laogai [slave labor camps] has remained an integral part of China's modernization drive. The Laogai itself has benefited greatly form the opening of China to international commerce and access to hard currency through the export of its products: everything from socks to diesel engines, raw cotton to processed graphite."

Although the Chinese dictatorship signed a 1992 agreement pledging not to export prison labor, that agreement has been routinely ignored, in part because the Chinese claim that it does not apply to concentration camps for political prisoners, many of which are controlled by the Chinese army.

The Rocky Mountain News notes that Webb urged the metro Denver transit agency (over which Webb has no legal authority), not to buy rails from a Colorado company which is engaged in long-standing battle with the United Steelworkers. Yet according to the March 22 Denver Post, Webb envisions "Denver innovators launching new companies by tapping cheap labor in China." You can be sure that Chinese labor costs a lot less than what the United Steelworkers make, partly because, as the AFL-CIO's Greene puts it, "In China, if you try to organize workers, you're shot or put into jail."

On the Rocky Mountain News website, one Denverite wrote, "If the Tibetans and Christians being persecuted in China were black, Webb would be leading the charge for sanctions and trade embargo. A double standard? No, a hypocritical racist."

Whatever his feelings about Asians (and Webb has never been known to make racist comments about any group), Wellington Webb is doing an excellent job of confirming to the Chinese government and people what the Communists have said all along: All the Americans care about is money; everything they say about human rights is domestic political puffery.

One of the greatest long-term threats to the Chinese Communist dictatorship is the American ideal of freedom. How pleased the Chinese dictatorship must be to show the Chinese people a powerful American politician — a black man whose ancestors were slaves — currying the favor of the largest slave empire in the world, never daring to utter a sentence about freedom. How pleased the Chinese military must be to watch a visiting American delegation that apparently shares the military's belief that the military taking of American hostages should not interfere with the military export of slave labor products to the United States.

Post Script:

On Wednesday, April 4, Mayor Webb finally did speak out about the American hostages. He told Chinese media "the sooner the aircraft and crew are released, it allows the focus to return to business."

Webb also said that he had been advised by the American Ambassador to China to go ahead with the scheduled dinner party at Tienanmen Square: "He said not to do so would be worse than going ahead with the plans."

Other than urging the release of the 24 Americans, Webb has remained silent on human rights issues in China.

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