Foreign countries paying for public officials’ trips cause concern
After running our article last week about the borough’s relations with the People’s Republic (“Brooklyn’s Mixed Message to China?“) we heard from Dr. Ming Xia, Professor of Political Science at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, the City University of New York.
Our dialogue resulted in a short Q & A with Dr. Xia, touching upon the Borough President’s recent trip to China, the source of funding for such a trip (and other trips by public officials), potential conflicts of interest, and the state of Chinese-American relations generally.
Brooklyn Brief: How would you describe U.S. / China relations presently?
Dr. Ming Xia: At this moment, U.S.-China relationship is very tense and is going to get worse due to ideological, geopolitical and economic differences. For the Chinese government, the U.S. has been the only real opposition to its political autocracy and human rights abuses practiced by the Communist Party. Previously, this opposition turned into part of the “Chimerica” partnership under the George W. Bush administration, which had been silent about repressions within China. The Chinese government had believed that the U.S. could be bought off, but now, as a variety of crises and resistance are mounting in China, the Chinese government feels it needs to intensify its PR to calm down the U.S., which has been becoming more critical of China.
BB: How common is it for a non-profit or even the Chinese government to fund a trip to China? Is the source of funding for such a trip usually made public (or not made public)?
MX: It is common to have a group fund these trips, and it’s not always publicized. Recently, for example, President Obama’s family visited China (during his daughters’ spring break) and we do not know too much about the details of who funded the trip. The Chinese news media (not the official ones, but the social media such as Weibo) have suspected that the Chinese government footed the bill.
BB: What are your thoughts of a Chinese “friendship arch” coming to Sunset Park?
MX: I feel it is popular among the Chinese here in New York that a friendship archway be erected in Brooklyn, and the borough president’s visit to China can be beneficial to Brooklynites.
BB: So if the archway is a good thing, and funded trips are common, where is there an issue?
MX: While there may not be any underhanded motives, residents of Brooklyn have a right to know who is funding a trip on their elected official’s behalf. If the funding is in fact coming from the Chinese government, then we have to be cautious and aware of what China wants from the Borough President. If it is funded by civic or business groups of the Chinese living in New York, we have to be cautious and aware of what these groups want, realizing that some Chinese groups will seek special favors from public officials (such as contracts, grants, connections to federal officials to secure visas, etc.).
BB: Any advice to the Borough President to steer clear of these issues?
MX: My only suggestion to the borough president is, if he is going to visit China again, or any other country, realize he might be treated like royalty, but with some tempting traps designed to compromise him. Public officials should always be aware of wines, women, gifts, fun sight-seeing, theft of sensitive information from computer or mobile devices, and eavesdropping. Assuming he did not get into any compromising situations, I hope he was able to see China and help strengthen our city’s connection with China and certain Chinese cities.
Ming Xia, a Full Professor of Political Science, teaches at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York. He is a columnist for Hong Kong monthly Trend and China in Perspective electronic magazine in U.S. He once taught at Fudan University and served as a residential fellow at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the George Washington University, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the East Asian Institute and the Asian Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of The Dual Developmental State (2000), The People’s Congresses and Governance in China in China (2008) and The Political Venus (2012, Chinese). He is also a co-producer of Oscar-nominated HBO documentary, “China’s Unnatural Disaster, The Tears of Sichuan Province” (2009). From 2009 to 2013, he has been consecutively included to the list of Top 100 Chinese Public Intellectuals.
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