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Al Haig, Bill Clinton and the COSCO deal

Last week, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested on national television that I should be “jailed for perjury” for criticizing U.S. government plans to permit a company controlled by the Chinese military to operate a strategic port facility in Long Beach, Calif.

Gen. Haig has always been something of an authoritarian control freak. No one conscious at the time President Reagan was shot will ever forget his chilling “I’m in control here” statement from the White House. But his offhand call to jail a journalist exercising his First Amendment rights raises other questions.

Haig is proudly listed in official publications of the Chinese Overseas Shipping Co., or COSCO, as a senior honorary adviser. One wonders what his compensation in that role might be and how it affects his judgment about the national security issues at stake in the question of whether COSCO should control the port facility in Long Beach. We may never know the answer to that question because Haig has failed to register as a foreign agent for China as required by law, and Attorney General Janet Reno, the controlling legal authority, appears to have no interest in pursuing such flagrant violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

But maybe Haig has become enamored of the Chinese system, under which raising such questions would be grounds for jailing a journalist.

I didn’t see one word about the continuing, brutal crackdown on the press in China during the U.S. press coverage of China’s just-ended Communist Party Congress. But it is intensifying as official policy.

Among the many calls China’s strongman Zemin Jiang made during the plenum was for even tighter restrictions on the media to stop the spread of “decadent ideas.” Remember, this comes in a country that recently closed 300 already tightly controlled newspapers.

“We should tighten control over the press and publishing, optimizing their structures and improving their quality,” Jiang said. He stressed the media should always be guided by the “party spirit” and strive to educate the people with the correct socialist ideology.

That’s the role of the press in China — to brainwash and indoctrinate people living in a closed, totalitarian society so they don’t get any crazy ideas about freedom.

Here’s what Agence France-Presse reported on the speech: “Mr. Jiang has been at the forefront of a national campaign to bring rogue elements of the arts and media to heel, closing ‘unhealthy’ publications and warning the official press against straying from the party line.

“We must resist the corrosion of decadent ideas and cultures,” Jiang said. In case you weren’t sure, the word “decadent” today in China means “politically incorrect.”

Permitting more market-driven enterprises, even businesses tightly controlled by the party apparatchiks, does not extend to the realm of information in modern-day China. Even in this so-called “information age,” this is a closed society — a throwback to the most abusive and repressive dictatorships the world has ever known.

“We should, on the one hand, try to boost our cultural undertakings, and on the other tighten control over the markets for cultural products to facilitate their sound development,” said Jiang.

Is this the kind of system Haig prefers? If he feels more comfortable in such environs, I suggest he pack his bags today, take the next flight to Beijing and spend the rest of his days living under the rules he would like to impose on the rest of us.

Instead, Haig is the worst kind of hypocrite — the kind who accepts every benefit of life in a free society while personally profiting from a promotional relationship with the cruelest, most repressive and increasingly dangerous nation of earth.

To think that this man was once not much more than a heartbeat away from the presidency is scary. But then, again, it was President Clinton — even more than Haig — who engineered this COSCO plan in Long Beach.

It was just days after COSCO adviser Hongye Zheng attended one of Clinton’s Saturday morning radio broadcasts, and following a transfer of $391,000 into the Democratic National Committee’s coffers mysteriously raised by Johnny Chung, that Washington proposed the deal to Long Beach officials.

Haig vociferously defended President Clinton’s decision last week on C-SPAN. So, maybe he’s living in the right country, after all. Perhaps it’s freedom-loving Americans who should be in the market for a new one — or, at least, a radical change in direction.