The Corner

China, the West, and Leverage

Yesterday, I wrote a post headed “The Quiet Death of ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza.’” It was about the House GOP and its spiking of a move to honor a Chinese political prisoner.

In that post, I wrote,

My guess is, Republican donors don’t like the idea of “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” because they want commercial relations with China. They fear that honoring a dissident will endanger commercial relations. I doubt this is so. The Free World has more leverage than it knows.

This is something I learned from Jianli Yang, among others: The Free World has much more leverage than it knows. (Yang is a leading Chinese democracy activist and former political prisoner.) The West thinks that China holds all the cards and we have none. So we fold over and over, unnecessarily.

It never occurs to us that the CCP is keen, sometimes desperate, to have relations with us: economic relations, political relations, university relations, cultural relations. We have abundant leverage. And yet, in our ignorance, we quake.

Incidentally, Garry Kasparov says the exact same thing about the Kremlin and us, but that is a different story (if a related one).

Why am I going through all this? I’d like to share a letter, sent to me yesterday by a longtime and most perceptive reader:

Greetings, Jay:

You have reminded me of something that happened when I was at WOR Radio, 35 years ago. I was the morning editor, and one of the rules was that anchors would enter the booth with more copy than they could possibly use, just in case.

On one particular morning, a kicker item had to do with a couple who had just been awarded $3 million in their lawsuit against Delta Airlines. I sent it in with the anchor over and over, and over and over he returned, with the item unread. Finally, during a 15-minute top-of-the-hour newscast, he got to it as his last story.

Whereupon we had a commercial. Now, we never knew which commercials would play, which helped assure our independence in the newsroom. And, sure enough, this one opened with the jingle “Delta is ready when you are.”

In came the program director, steaming. Delta would surely pull their ads from our air, he said. They would be enraged. To which I said, Yes, this is unfortunate, but my guess is they run spots on WOR because they make money from them, not because they like us. It would be stupid of them, then, to pull their ads in a fit of pique.

I heard nothing more about it, and Delta spots continued to play on WOR.

Same with trade and China, I suspect. It seems unlikely that they trade with us because they like us. They trade with us because it’s in their interest.

Chillen, the Free World has more leverage than it knows. It really does. Use it now and again.

If the CCP says, “Professor Link can’t head your Chinese-language program in Beijing because he’s a bad guy who likes freedom and human rights,” say, “Fine. We’ll move our program to Taipei. It would be better for us to operate in a free country anyway. Besides, their Chinese is better, because uncorrupted by Communist dictates.”

But does Princeton or any other university ever say that? Are you kidding? They tremble. Morality aside — there is no need to. You got leverage, baby. They may want you more than you want them. Remember that.