Friday, October 31, 1997

China’s president
gets a cool reception

CHINA'S President Jiang Zemin finally got the state visit he wanted, but the atmosphere was more strained than cordial. Not only did human rights protesters pop up repeatedly, first in Hawaii and later in Washington and other spots, but President Clinton made it clear in a joint news conference with Jiang that the United States strongly disapproves of the Beijing regime's repressive tactics. At a subsequent meeting with congressional leaders, Jiang received more criticism on human rights.

The Chinese president must have gotten the message. But he blandly defended the decision to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square eight years ago, although it was widely condemned at the time and ever since. And he made no pledge that China would improve its wretched human rights record -- indeed, he made no admission that it needs improvement.

Clinton came into office criticizing George Bush for coddling the Chinese dictatorship, but he soon decided that coddling was the way to go. This administration has embraced the policy of "engagement" of China in the belief that exposure to democratic practices would encourage reform and that trade and other sanctions would be counterproductive.

China is indeed too big, too important economically and strategically, to be ignored or shunned. But it's difficult for an American president to act friendly toward the leader of a country that has devastated Tibet, threatened Taiwan, imprisoned and killed political dissidents, sold nuclear technology and missiles to Iran and defied rules of international trade.

In his joint news conference with Jiang, Clinton's discomfort was obvious. He made no pretense of agreement with his guest on human rights although it is customary on such occasions to gloss over differences of opinion. Yet the president soldiered on, in the belief that rejecting cooperation with China -- as some propose -- would only make matters worse.

The most significant agreement that was announced had to do with nuclear energy. Clinton said he planned to certify to Congress that China is no longer selling or transferring nuclear technology to other countries for weapons development.

This would permit the sale of advanced technology for nuclear energy to China by U.S. companies, which could mean billions of dollars in sales. However, many members of Congress and other critics are skeptical of China's assurances, which is not surprising in view of Beijing's record of noncompliance with such commitments.

By inviting Jiang Zemin for a state visit, President Clinton has accorded the Chinese leader the status he coveted for himself and his government. This could result in improved relations between the world's established superpower and the emerging one. But there was no mistaking the coolness on the part of the United States government and the American people toward a difficult and dangerous partner in diplomacy.

Bishop Estate threats

TENSION surrounding the state's investigation of Bishop Estate reached new heights with reports of threats against an estate employee and Attorney General Margery Bronster. Assurances of protection are appropriate to enable the attorney general's office to continue candid interviews with estate employees and others in obtaining information needed for its investigation.

The threats may have been triggered by rumors about what employees told Bronster or Larry Goya, a senior deputy assigned to the investigation. Laurian Childers, a computer technician at the estate, reportedly told Goya two weeks ago that another employee told her that trustee Lokelani Lindsey's secretary had tried to delete files from a computer's hard drive.

The attorney general's office provided Childers with armed guards last week, after her husband reported she had received an anonymous threat over the telephone. Police say they are investigating a separate threat connected with the Bishop Estate investigation that prompted them to provide protection last weekend to Bronster herself.

Meanwhile, William McCorriston, who seems to be representing both the estate and its trustees individually, insists no documents or computer records have been destroyed. Lindsey's secretary had merely downloaded personal files containing Hawaiian song lyrics, travel itineraries and notes on Polynesian culture on floppy disks, he says.

Howard Luke, who signed on as attorney for estate employees called by Bronster's office to be interviewed about the computer files, said they would testify that no estate documents had been destroyed. Luke's description of the employees' unity was the kind that sends a message to any employee who may have seen documents destroyed -- or been witness to any other impropriety -- to find another lawyer.

Bronster has obtained a judge's restraining order that forbids not only the destruction of estate documents but retaliation against estate employees who provide information that may be detrimental to the trustees. Neither telephone threats nor employee solidarity under common legal counsel should be allowed to thwart the investigation.

Bishop Estate Archive

Growing pains

IN Hawaii's stagnant economy, Hawaii Pacific University is an exception. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has recommended that HPU increase its full-time faculty. The school was faulted for having faculty teach too many classes and for employing too many part-time instructors.

HPU officials said the problem is the school's growing pains. Not many operations in Hawaii these days have that problem.

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