Abandon Ship

It looks like the Bush Administration’s determination to let private citizens decide U.S. foreign policy on an ad hoc basis continues this week with China. It’s part of a trend. Hundreds of tasks – prison management in Iraq, for instance – are already doled out to private contractors, so why not turn over Sino-U.S. relations to software execs?
President Bush is meeting with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao this week in Washington. According to the New York Times, Bush feels like he and Jintao get along ’cause the Chinese premier has told the U.S. he’s got his hands full with the nation’s domestic agenda.
He sure does. And that domestic agenda – which includes holding a New York Times researcher on spying charges, locking up a filmmaker, censoring information available to Chinese citizens – has nothingto do with the U.S. Just as the U.S. domestic agenda – immigration reform – has nothing to do with China. What part of “global economy” is lost on the White House? As the Disney folks might say: It’s a small world, after all. Chinese internal politics echoes in the U.S. Just ask any San Francisco politicianwho must contend with a city where 40 percent of the population was born in China.
This is not lost on the Chinese. That’s why Hu is going to sit down with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. If nothing else, Gates has a better sense of what’s going on in China than Bush. Why else would human rights activists be asking Gates to plead their case?
Gates, of course, has spent plenty of time in China. The Chinese treat him the way the Indians treat Bill Clinton. Gates’ photos – photos of him with restaurant owners in Beijing and Shanghai, photos of him in rickshaws – are prominently displayed at local tourist joints. You know, like he’s the president of the United States or something.
But Gates is no diplomat. He’s a businessman. A businessman who’s got contracts and agreements with the Chinese government. Yeah, I know, it’s a public-private partnership with a Chinese entity. That’s the nice way of saying “Chinese government.” Because that’s who owns the “entity.”
This isn’t Gates’ fault. Nor is it the fault of any other software company doing business in China; they are businessmen. Their job is to make money.
But it’s not a good idea for the U.S. government to be abandoning a key part of its duties: Telling the companies based here how to conduct themselves in negotiations with foreign governments and other “entities.” That’s what government is supposed to do; it’s their job. That this administration doesn’t seem to understand that it has a role to play – beyond reassuring itself that all’s well ’cause the Chinese are too busy straightening up their internal affairs – is a wrong step in a bad direction.