Clinton adviser quits over China rhetoric
By LISA LERER | 4/18/08 8:32 PM EST
A top expert on China has resigned as an informal
adviser to Hillary Rodham Clintons campaign in the
wake of the candidate's increasingly harsh anti-China
Richard Baum, a political science professor at the
Center for Chinese Studies at UCLA, resigned in light
of what he called grossly misguided accusations made
by Clinton about China.
As a lifelong Democrat, it saddens me that Sen.
Clinton has chosen to take the low road in her effort
to gain our partys presidential nomination, Baum
said in an e-mail to Politico.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to
requests for comment by Politico.
Clinton recently has ratcheted up her anti-China
sentiments, criticizing the country on everything from
its human rights violations to its undervalued
Im the only candidate who isnt just talking about
cracking down on China but I have a specific plan on
how to do it, she told union members at the AFL-CIOs
Building Trades National Legislative Conference on
China should be our trade partner, not our trade
Baum was part of an informal advisory group of East
Asia specialists formed by the campaign in January.
Led by Susan Shirk who served as deputy assistant
secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asia and
Pacific Affairs under President Bill Clinton from 1997
to 2000 the group of a dozen or so advisers has
given the campaign input on issues affecting U.S.
foreign policy in Asia. Shirk now directs the
University of Californias system-wide Institute on
Global Conflict and Cooperation. She could not be
reached for comment.
Over the past three or four months, Baum said, the
group held several telephone conferences with the
campaign. During those calls, a few members advised
Clinton to avoid what they considered gratuitous
China bashing, particularly on inflammatory issues
such as human rights violations, the trade deficit,
currency valuation and the loss of American jobs to
Our reasoning was that while China certainly bears a
share of responsibility for these (and other)
problems, much (if not most) of the blame, at least on
the economic issues, lies elsewhere, Baum wrote in an
e-mail. He attributed the problems, at least in part,
to Americas high level of consumption, deficit
spending and selective trade protectionism.
On the question of human rights, Baum said he and
others in the advisory group believe the Chinese
leaders respond better to persistent advice than
self-righteous finger-pointing aimed at publicly
shaming and humiliating them.
Clinton, however, took a different approach.
In early April, she urged President Bush to boycott
the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, citing
Chinas recent violent crackdown on Tibetan protesters
and refusal to condemn the genocide in Darfur.
That sounded some alarm bells for Baum and other
members of the advisory group, who felt that a
presidential decision to boycott the ceremony could
have long-term diplomatic ramifications.
Calls for a presidential boycott should not be
opportunistically injected into Democratic Party
politics during a heated presidential primary
campaign, Baum said.
A week later, Baum felt that Clinton crossed a line.
At an appearance April 14 at a trade forum in
Pittsburgh, she called for punitive trade sanctions
and retaliatory measures against China. Thats when he
decided to resign.
Since then, shes continued to hammer China on a host
I will get tough on China, she said on Wednesday
during the speech in Washington. Because right now,
Chinas steel comes here, our jobs go there. Chinas
exports, our jobs across the economy are sent there.
We play by the rules, they manipulate their currency.
We get tainted fish, lead-based toys, polluted
Her stance is particularly curious given her husbands
historic support for China.
Then-President Bill Clinton made his first visit to
mainland China in 1998, making him the first president
to visit since troops crushed pro-democracy
demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
At the time, Republicans in Congress attacked Clinton
for his decision to be welcomed by Chinas president,
Jiang Zemin, in Tiananmen Square.
I believe that leaders of vision and imagination and
courage will find a way to put China on the right side
of history and keep it there, he famously said
during that visit.
On Friday, The Huffington Post reported that the
former president has earned $1.25 million for six
speaking engagements for Chinese businesses and forums
since leaving the White House. He also pushed for more
open economic relations between the U.S. and China.
Of course, not all China experts agree with Baums
Every president since Nixon, after getting into
office, has moved toward greater engagement with
China, said Kenneth Lieberthal, a professor at the
University of Michigans business school and former
special assistant to President Clinton on Asia-related
Lieberthal, who declined to comment on his
relationship with the Clinton campaign, has said he
would advise against boycotting the Beijing Olympics.
I thought [Clintons speech] reflected what
unfortunately tends to happen in political campaigns,
which is that there is an effort to tell the story
that fits well with the preconceptions of the
audience, he said.
Beth Frerking contributed to this report.