TRIPLETT: Who is Hu Jintao?

Official niceties obscure his bloody record

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”It is not every day that the queen and the British prime minister welcome a state leader who ordered his troops to mow down unarmed civilians.” So begins a British newspaper report by eminent China scholar and editor Jonathan Mirsky on the visit of Hu Jintao to England in 2001. At the time, Mr. Hu was only No. 2 in China.

Mr. Mirsky wondered what briefing notes the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office sent around, because Mr. Hu’s official biography as released by the Chinese Communist Party is pretty innocuous. He graduated from China’s version of MIT, and he was the youngest provincial Communist Party secretary of his time.

But it is Mr. Hu’s role as Communist Party secretary in Tibet (distinctly not addressed in his official biography) that has led to the red stain he will never wash off. In early March 1989, a small group of Tibetan monks led a march in Lhasa to protest killings by Chinese troops the year before. They were fired upon. Tibetan citizens responded with demonstrations. Mr. Hu declared martial law in Lhasa and “Chinese security officers, under orders from Party Secretary Hu, opened fire for three days, killing somewhere between 100 and 700 Tibetans,” Mr. Mirsky wrote.

Mr. Hu’s motivation for ordering the killing of unarmed civilians is unknown. What is known is that Mr. Hu has a very strong racial hatred and fear of Tibetans. We know this because Mr. Hu confessed such to Mr. Mirsky in an interview before the Lhasa murders. He loathed Tibet’s climate and Tibetans’ “lack of culture.” He kept his family in Beijing and visited Lhasa as infrequently as he could. Perhaps he might have appreciated Tibetan culture more if the Chinese communists had not destroyed so much of it, beginning with their invasion of the country in 1949. By 1989, perhaps 90 percent of it was gone, along with more than a million Tibetans, murdered in their own land. As a symbol of their suffering and of the nation (and a pointed rebuke to Mr. Hu and his Communist Party comrades) the Nobel Committee awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize to His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

For this week’s state visit to Washington, Mr. Hu is No. 1, called “president” of the People's Republic of China although he never stood for election by the people. His real power is his position as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and his role as the chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission.

The following events have occurred during Mr. Hu’s term of office:

c China’s leading dissident won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize from his jail cell.

c American and other foreign firms continue to complain of massive theft of intellectual property by Chinese firms and unfair trade barriers set up by Mr. Hu’s bureaucrats.

c China’s surrogate, North Korea, continues to oppress its people, smuggle missiles to Iran and kill South Koreans.

c Massive espionage on an unprecedented scale continues from Mr. Hu’s security services.

c Google was victimized by Chinese-government-directed hackers who targeted the company’s crown jewels, its computer source codes.

c And the people of Tibet remain in chains.

While in office, President Obama has met with Mr. Hu on at least three occasions. As the British Foreign Office does in England, the American government prepares official biographies of foreign dignitaries. There have been problems with these things in the past. For example, in the 1990s, a Chinese military leader came to Washington, and the official biography sent around neglected to mention his crucial role at the Tiananmen massacre, when Chinese Communist security forces again massacred unarmed civilians. We don’t know, for example, if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said to the president, “Yes, I know it’s distasteful, but for reasons of state, sometimes you have to meet with people you don’t like, and Hu is one of them.” Perhaps at the State Dinner for Mr. Hu, we can read President Obama’s body language to see if he has been informed of his guest of honor’s real background.

Again, for reasons of state, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met this month with Mr. Hu in Beijing. The Chinese took the occasion to insult Mr. Gates, with the Chinese military showing off its new fifth-generation fighter prototype while Mr. Hu denied any knowledge of it. Mr. Hu is, in theory, China’s highest-ranking military leader, and a former CIA director like Mr. Gates has seen “bad cop, good cop” played out before.

Reasons of state apply to the executive branch of government, not the legislative branch. There is no need for anyone in the House or Senate, for example, to be photographed with Mr. Hu or his entourage.

William C. Triplett II is the former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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