The Water Torture of American Resolve
Pruden, Wesley, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
If dining on fish-bladder soup and the family dog is your idea of a gourmet meal, you might want a shot of Bill Cohen standing in his private office in his BVDs, dressing for dinner.
But that's not what Xinhua News Agency's purchase of a headquarters building overlooking the Pentagon is really all about.
It's true, of course, that the sight lines from the sixth and seventh floors of the Arlington Ridge Apartments offer an unobstructed view of the defense secretary's office, and sophisticated electronic-snooping technology could figure out a lot of things going on in the outside ring of the Pentagon, where Mr. Cohen and the biggies of the Defense Department conduct the planning and execution of the nation's defenses.
But what Beijing wants is not necessarily to snoop (though that, too), but to measure the steel, if any, in the Clinton administration's backbone, and the rigor, if any, in the congressional kidney.
The revelation that the Chinese had bought the building to house its state-owned news agency, which is not so much a news-gathering operation as a collection agency for the national secrets of others, irritated the Chinese, but did not embarrass them. Beijing, having bought a trade agreement with effusive promises, is merely testing to see what it could get by with, to see whether Congress will allow them to trash the promises they made to get what they want.
The law is clear that the U.S. government must approve any expansion of the diplomatic mission. Here's a spokesman for State, not your usual China basher or someone who likes to make it tough on foreign diplomats:
"The Embassy of the People's Republic of China is required under the Foreign Missions Act to obtain prior authorization from the State Department for any purchase or sales of real property of the Xinhua News Agency. The embassy was notified of this in 1985.
"The department has no record of it providing notification of its plans to purchase the Virginia property or of the department granting authorization. The department is in contact with the Chinese government regarding this issue to assure that all appropriate interests are addressed."
That seems clear enough in English, and no doubt clear in Mandarin or whatever spoken dialect the embassy may require. The embassy put the blame on its American lawyers. "We don't need permission," said an embassy spokesman, smugly. …