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Understanding China
By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator

JAN. 25, 2011 -- Let's play a game of running China to understand it. But first we agree that China's record on human rights and trade practices are reprehensible. I'm not trying to excuse China, but understand it. As a Southern Governor fifty years ago, I know China's problem on human rights.


Hu Jintao, last week visiting the United States, is running China. Hu is in charge -- not the military. Well educated, Hu Jintao is a highly intelligent communist. Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, the "Wise Man of the East," told Senator Shelby and me that Hu was not just a politician, but a student of government. Hu came to Singapore years ago to learn how Singapore, with no natural resources and the most diverse of populations, could become so economically strong. Hu has a plan to develop a strong economy in China and, at the same time, keep the Middle Kingdom together. While this takes years, some will enjoy a strong economy while others feel neglected. China has already brought 400 million from poverty into the middle class, but still has 900 million to go. The neglected today want to demonstrate to get the attention of the government. But if Hu Jintao allows demonstrators to take over the streets like we do in America, the Middle Kingdom will come apart.

Fifty years ago I was Governor of a State with a population of 2 million, 800 thousand. In 1961 South Carolina had hardly any industry, no opportunity, and was yearning for economic development. At the same time, the Brown vs. Board decision of the Supreme Court had come down in 1954 integrating the public schools. Former Supreme Court Justice James F. Byrnes proclaimed the Brown decision unconstitutional. And as the most revered public servant to ever serve the State, he led a policy of resistance. But President John F. Kennedy proclaimed: "If the blacks can't get their rights in the Congress, can't get their rights in the courts, where else can they go except the streets of America?" African-Americans were demonstrating for their civil rights and the phone of Governor Hollings (1959 to 1963) was ringing off. Irate citizens were raging, "They're taking over the streets. You're the chief law enforcement officer of South Carolina. If you can't enforce the law, we'll get somebody who can." African-Americans had given up on getting permits to demonstrate, and demonstrations were in violation of the law.

"We stay bogged down in pollster politics while China takes over as the world's economic superpower. People are tired of Washington acting like a helpless giant. Act like grown-ups! Level the playing field by trading -- quit whining."

-- Hollings

I was "Mister In-between." I was charged with enforcing the law as Governor, but common sense told me a lot of innocent people would get hurt if I opted for strict enforcement. Demonstrators had been killed in other Southern states, and I had to make sure that no one was killed or seriously hurt. I took cover under the old Roman canon: "Salus Populi est Suprema Lex" - the safety of the people is the supreme law. In Rock Hill, Reverend Ivory would march little black children into the Woolworth's to sit at the lunch counters, and the white punks with ducktail haircuts and peg-leg britches would crowd behind them and wait for one to give up his seat and dive for the seat. There would be physical contact and serious injury. I would allow only fourteen people in and fourteen out, so there would be no reason to crowd and hurt the children. The lawyer from Woolworth's called me and said I couldn't do that. I responded that I was the chief law enforcement officer in South Carolina. I was in charge of the public safety, and if Chief Justice Warren came down to interrupt my procedure, I would put him in jail. The NAACP was in a demonstration contest with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. One would demonstrate in Rock Hill and at the same time the other would demonstrate at Silver's in Charleston; one would be in front of Trinity Church in Columbia and the other down in Orangeburg. Harry Walker, my legal assistant, Pete Strom, Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, and I kept jumping all over the State trying to enforce the law and yet see that no demonstrators would be hurt. With a population under 3 million, I was lucky no one got killed.

Today, in China, a country of 1 billion, 300 million, Hu is faced with the same problem. If he allows demonstrations to spread, the country will come apart. Hu has to be forceful in enforcing the law - perhaps traumatic. You and I disapprove of Tiananmen Square, but now that the Chinese know you can get killed illegally demonstrating, there's been less killing and less demonstrating. How else would you do it?

China has already learned the value of economic strength while we have forgotten it. After Tiananmen Square, we passed a resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations to investigate human rights in China. China in turn went to its economic friends in Africa and the Pacific Rim, and there has never been a hearing on the resolution. More recently, when Japan seized a Chinese ship captain, China forced the return of the captain by halting shipments of rare earth materiel to Japan. Today China practices our "Good Neighbor Policy" while we make wars. This past year, China has given out more economic aid than the World Bank. Yet we get exercised when China builds its military or flies a stealth fighter. China will need its military to keep law and order for several years more. But we follow a duplicitous military policy on the People's Republic of China. The Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and Taiwan was terminated in 1979, and we violate our "one China policy" when we ship arms to Taiwan and say it's only for defense. How would we like it if China shipped arms to Texas, that's threatening to secede? Leaders from Congress are glad to see Vietnam develop peacefully. They don't charge Vietnam with being a communist state, but its leaders refuse "to dine" with a communist dictator. We continually whine about China's currency value, theft of intellectual policy, and human rights.

We stay bogged down in pollster politics while China takes over as the world's economic superpower. People are tired of Washington acting like a helpless giant. Act like grown-ups! Level the playing field by trading -- quit whining. The best message on human rights was when we displayed to Hu Jintao last week our Nobel Prize winner as President of the United States.

Senator Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of the recently published book, Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2011, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives.

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