Rod Serling must have written this scene, the congressman thought to himself.
He and an aide sat in the rooftop suite of a downtown hotel, in serious disrepair. The worn, early ’60s decor only added to the sensation of life inside a “Twilight Zone” episode, compounded outdoors by the monsoonal conditions of a mid-August afternoon.
The threatening storm clouds were more like Miami than Phoenix, but the changing hues aloft put to rest any notion that this was occurring in black and white.
Seated across the room were visitors from the East — the Far East — though the delegation had come to Arizona from the consulate general of China in Los Angeles.
Ostensibly, this was a “get acquainted” exercise, but the congressman understood that the visitors had come as part of a “charm offensive” by the Chinese.
Sadly, for his foreign visitors, the congressman saw nothing charming in the Chinese presentation. While he was inclined to give them “an A for effort,” even their intended overture of hospitality was ham-handed. Rather than call room service and prearrange a beverage service for all in attendance, a junior member of the delegation hurriedly brewed coffee in the small, hotel-issued device in the suite.
The young diplomat’s hasty decision to pour the hot beverage into highball glasses only added to the ill-fitting atmosphere of the encounter. So, with steaming hot coffee served in glasses better suited for happy hour, the senior Chinese official began his happy talk.
“China desires friendship with the United States,” the consular officer said. “And there is no better way to encourage friendship between our two nations than to build on the trade policy already in place. If the United States Congress extends ‘normal trade relations’ with our nation, it will add to the prosperity and security of both our peoples.”
The congressman offered a response couched in diplomatic niceties, but clearly stating his concerns: “Welcome to Arizona; you honor us with your visit. Thanks also for stating your desire for friendship between our nations. In that spirit, let us speak to each other candidly, as friends. Your kind words notwithstanding, it is very difficult to reconcile those comments with some troubling remarks recently made by one of your senior military officers. Specifically, it was Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai who said of our nation and our people, ‘…you care a lot more about Los Angeles than Taipei.’ How are we to interpret that, other than as a direct threat?”
The senior Chinese diplomat had a ready response: “Congressman, perhaps you have had the experience of being misquoted in the press? I believe that was the case with Gen. Xiong in this instance.”
“Besides,” he continued, “because we are headquartered in Los Angeles, I can assure you that my colleagues and I have considerable personal interest in that great city!”
Despite the diplomat’s effort at deflection through humor, the conversation did nothing to change the congressman’s mind. When the question of extending “normal trade relations” with communist China came before the full House, he voted no.
Fast-forward through two decades and five occupants of the White House. The congressman is now a columnist, but serious questions about U.S.-China relations remain.
Of the five men who have occupied the Oval Office through those years, only Donald Trump remained skeptical of trade with China. The other four were pro-China trade, with one, Bill Clinton, “evolving.”
Gov. Clinton campaigned as an opponent of trade with China, only to change his mind as president, and campaign finance records explain why.
Financial contributions by Chinese citizens to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996 led to changes in U.S. Campaign Finance Law but were of no legal consequence to President Clinton.
Undaunted, the Chinese shifted their strategy. Instead of presidential campaigns, they concentrated on “princelings,” the children of prominent politicians. Most notably, Hunter Biden, who has been involved in questionable business dealings with Chinese entities.
Something has certainly affected Hunter’s dad, the current commander-in-chief. On a recent overseas trip to visit Asian allies, there was no stop in Taiwan, but Joe Biden brought the traveling White House Press Corps to a “full stop” when he said that the United States would intervene militarily if the Chinese attacked Taiwan. White House staffers immediately “walked back” his comments, but Ol’ Joe had taken “strategic ambiguity” to greater levels of contradiction and confusion.
Or could that be the elder Biden was making his own “deflection play,” mindful of suspicions that he could be a blackmail target?
Meantime, press accounts indicate China may soon move militarily against Taiwan — just as Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year. Two communist nuclear powers going to war against their neighbors in 2022? What might happen next?
It sounds like the plot of a “Twilight Zone” episode from 1962 — or perhaps, if miscalculations continue, like “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”
J.D. Hayworth represented Arizona in the U.S. House from 1995-2007. He authored and sponsored the Enforcement First Act, legislation that would have mandated enforcement of Federal Immigration Law in the 109th Congress.