I shall begin this historical meditation on the late US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles by sympathizing with the current Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo.
Secretary Pompeo is, according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the “enemy of humankind,” a “highly venomous” diplomat, a “super-spreader” of “political viruses,” and a “rumor monger” with a “dark mind.” I tried to track down all these quotes from an over-caffeinated analysis in The Washington Post last week, but gave up. I suppose they are more or less accurate. The major shortcoming in the Post’s story, however, was that it uncritically repeated the Chinese distortion that “Pompeo’s relentless attacks on Beijing over the coronavirus outbreak” included “unsupported claims that the virus could have leaked from a Wuhan lab.” Secretary Pompeo has said much about China, but none of it has been “unsupported.” So, I count this as another successful operation executed by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department (中央宣傳部 — CPD).
Secretary Pompeo’s abuse at the hands of the CPD’s disinformation office brought a knowing smile to my face. A short while ago, I studied CCP disinformation behavior as a facet of Chinese negotiation tactics, and my research lit upon an event — or, rather, a non-existent, never-happened meme — that most historians of US-China relations insist is true.
The story centers on Secretary Pompeo’s renowned predecessor John Foster Dulles. Dulles, by the way, remains the only American Secretary of State ever to visit Taiwan. Indeed, Dulles’s policies have been so influential in Taiwan’s modern history that I am puzzled there isn’t at least a statue of him somewhere in Taipei. He was a courtly gentleman, the apotheosis of dignity and character, and probably the most capable Secretary of State in modern American history.
And he was a staunch defender of democracy in Asia; he was committed to the protection of Taiwan; and like Secretary Pompeo, a powerful opponent of communism, particularly Chinese Communism.
Thus it happened, in 1960, a year after Dulles’s death, that Chinese Premier Chou En-lai (周恩來) managed to persuade American writer Edgar Snow (an “Old Friend of China”) to flout the US embargo on China and make a forbidden journey to the “People’s Republic” to report on “the other side of the river.” It was as stage-managed a tour as any foreigner has ever experienced. Snow’s travels were hermetically walled off from “The Great Leap Forward.” To ensure Snow’s insulation from China’s realities, Snow was shuttled around China on Premier Chou En-lai’s personal train car, and Chou himself devoted 12 hours to Snow in the special, four-car blue plush-upholstered Pullman train between Peking and tourist areas to the north. Snow’s main tour guide was Dr. Chi Ch’ao-ting (冀朝鼎), an American-trained economist, and, as recently as 1949, the CCP’s most important financial spy in Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) government. As an aside, I should mention that I knew Dr. Chi’s younger brother, Ambassador Ji Chaozhu (冀朝鑄), who became Premier Chou’s interpreter and was an accomplished Beijing and United Nations diplomat. I am saddened to report that Ambassador Ji passed away last week.
Riding the rails on that warm August evening in 1960, Premier Chou steered their dinner conversation to the subject of the late Secretary Dulles. Chou had been in the same conference rooms with Dulles during the 1954 Geneva talks on Korea and Indo-China.
Chou then confided to Snow that Secretary Dulles “surprised him once … during the Geneva conference of 1954, Chou had entered the lounge of the conference room ahead of time. No one was there except Mr. Dulles, who was ‘only an observer’ at the conference. In a natural gesture under the circumstances Chou extended his hand. Mr. Dulles folded his hands behind his back, shook his head, and left the room. Chou winced as he remembered it.”
This tale was related to Snow in English by Dr. Chi directly from the lips of Premier Chou. Dulles had safely passed away in May of 1959 and was not available for comment. When Snow’s diary of his illicit China travels was published in 1961, the anecdote was an instant hit in the American media. To this very day, it is accepted as fact.
Delighted, Premier Chou gleefully complained about Dulles’s snub to Henry Kissinger in October, 1971. “Did you know that once [Dulles] wouldn’t shake hands with me?” he commented to Kissinger, “wasn’t that curious?” Kissinger replied: “It was unforgivable, Mr. Prime Minister.”
Surprise! Premier Chou’s aide at Geneva, Ambassador Wang Bingnan (王炳南), revealed in his 1984 memoir: “nothing of the sort ever happened.” Clearly, Ambassador Wang did not know that his old boss was the source of the fib, because Wang insisted that “throughout the conference” he himself was the Premier’s escort at all times and, for Communist Party protocol reasons, the Premier was never, ever permitted to be alone. “Since Dulles was the arch champion of anti-communism, the Premier was very cautious and strict about our not mixing with the Americans, and it certainly never occurred to him to shake hands with Dulles.”
Ambassador Wang concluded his recollection with the note that “some Americans, including Nixon and Kissinger, recall such an incident in their memoirs, but they are merely repeating a piece of hearsay.” Myth has utterly eclipsed truth.
The purpose of this myth, of course, was to paint — unfairly — Secretary of State Dulles in the American media as a boor and to establish China — in the person of Premier Chou — as the injured party.
Ambassador Wang noted elsewhere in his memoir another event across the negotiating table a few days earlier. A US delegation leader had clarified the US position in a way Premier Chou had tried to undermine. “Mr. Robertson,” Chou lashed out, “we knew each other while you were in China. I understand you.” Wang recalled “The Premier’s hard-hitting words left Robertson speechless and flushed with embarrassment.”
Wang then explained why the Communists engage in these ad hominem assaults: “The premier was alert to this kind of thing and adept at turning it to his advantage when the opportunity presented itself.”
Taiwanese politicians have known for decades that the “Chinese Communist Party” heaps this kind of venomous vitriol upon individual adversaries for the primary purpose of discrediting their ability to negotiate with China. Internal pressures build up within the foreign adversary to negotiate with themselves even as they try to engage the Chinese side. It is a tactic of little subtlety, but great sophistication.
In short, “personal insult” is the CCP’s weapon-of-choice in selecting their interlocutors across the negotiating table. They make the foreign adversary believe that one or the other member of a delegation simply cannot deal with China; thus, the pressure is on the foreign delegation to change its negotiating line-up. The CCP is impervious to this. Intra-party discipline means both the “good cops” and “bad cops” in their delegations are perfectly choreographed; the “bad cops” are the enforcers, while Chinese “good cops” are “hostages” who will suffer if the adversary delegation does not compromise.
Secretary of State Pompeo and, more importantly, President Trump, should be attuned to this Chinese insult offensive as a tried-and-true negotiating tactic. The best way to defeat it is to ignore it — or better still, inflict it on the CCP.
John J. Tkacik, Jr. is a retired US foreign service officer who has served in Taipei and Beijing and is now director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
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