Friday, January 8, 2010

Last year, convicted businessman James Riady donated $20,000 to Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative. At about the same time, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department granted him a multi-entry U.S. visa, something that seems to have been prohibited by the terms of his early 2001 plea agreement with the Department of Justice. Riady used the 2009 visa to travel widely around the United States, apparently without supervision by or even notice to Justice.

Shaking the Riady tree in the late 1990s produced an amazing number of agents of the Chinese government - more that 20 people who would eventually plead guilty to illegal campaign contributions to Bill Clinton and Al Gore and serious violations of American national security. In 1999, the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for disclosing “the corporate sale of American technology to China, with U.S. government approval despite national security risks.”

One would think that given the pounding the Clintons took a decade ago for their odious connections to the Chinese government - especially their ties to Chinese military intelligence revealed by this newspaper and others - that would make them shy away from anything that would bring those issues to the attention of a new generation of voters. However the Riady $20,000 Clinton contribution and visa events seem to part of a larger pattern suggesting that the Clintons are ready to return to Beijing connections, no matter the possible risk to the Obama administration.

First, last February, Secretary of State Clinton gave a speech setting out the priorities of United States policy towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC). To the surprise of many, she listed human rights issues at the bottom - not quite seventh in a field of six but that was the impression. Given the never-elected Chinese Communist Party’s constant legitimacy struggles with the Chinese people, that must have led to broad smiles in Beijing. On Christmas Day, Beijing responded to Mrs. Clinton’s signal by sentencing China’s leading pro-democracy advocate to the Chinese gulag for many years.

Second, although Sen. Barack Obama seemed to be a strong supporter of Tibet, President Obama has not been. This goes far beyond his decision not to meet with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, as other presidents have done. Looking around for the source of that advice, the Washington rumor mill points the finger at Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

Third, Mrs. Clinton has turned on the formidable Clinton fundraising machine to raise more than $50 million for the U.S. pavilion at the Shanghai Expo next summer. Mr. Obama’s Chicago team could have raised this amount of money without breaking a sweat. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, a close Obama adviser, was previously secretary of commerce and having him lead the fundraising would have been seen positively by the American business community. Considering other issues that the Obama administration has with American business, the president wouldn’t want to pass up this opportunity. But the Clintons pre-empted him to the point of leaking their fundraising to the New York Times for a Page 1 story on Sunday.

Fourth, there is the legal, political and social rehabilitation of James Riady.

It is possible, though doubtful, that these four events are separate acts of coincidence. What is definite is that they amount to subtle acts of separation by the Clintons from Mr. Obama and his closest advisers at the White House. For example, the White House, not the State Department, is engaged in trade conflicts with China, but the Clintons become the friend of U.S.-China trade through the publicity over the Shanghai pavilion.

As another example, neither U.S. business nor the bulk of China-watching academics could be considered advocates of human rights or democracy in China. By taking their position, the Clintons gain support from them. The big loser is President Obama, who is already under fire for not supporting the pro-democracy movement in Iran.

The Clintons’ rehabilitation of James Riady is something of a mystery. Although the former president raises a lot of money for his Global Initiative, there is no way Riady’s $20,000 would not have been red-flagged for his personal attention. Since the contribution was the entrance fee for Riady to attend the Initiative’s annual dinner, the Clintons had to have known that Riady was heading to the United States. Riady’s prohibition from entering the U.S. was one of those last acts of the Clinton administration that outraged Republicans. The Clintons’ motivation for helping him out can only be speculation.

Of all the Clinton machinations regarding Beijing, the most dangerous to Mr. Obama is the Riady visa. As far as is known, Mr. Obama was not touched by the Clinton-era fundraising scandals. But through the Riady doorway passes an entire “Star Wars” cantina scene of criminals and spies. His people had better close that doorway immediately and order Riady’s visa cancelled.

William C. Triplett, II is the co-author of “Year of the Rat” (Regnery, 2000).

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