Ironic that the FBI should be investigating possible Chinese government involvement in fund-raising for the Clinton campaign. Time was when foreign money for elections was flowing out of here, not coming in.
The first covert operation of the newly created CIA in 1947 was pumping some $10 million into Italy for propaganda, bribes, and support for the Christian Democrats against the Communists. Our side won. But when the Communists made a comeback in 1953, the CIA sent William Colby, future director, to Rome with $25 million. In his memoirs Mr. Colby describes how he filled the back seat of his Fiat with millions of lire, passing them out through his "outside agent," an ostensible student.
In those days money was outgoing; these days it's incoming. Possible Chinese embassy involvement in Asian contributions for the Clinton campaign was first reported by The Washington Post, citing electronic eavesdropping. President Clinton, inferentially confirming the report, said "a serious set of questions" has been raised that "obviously have to be thoroughly investigated."
But why would Beijing support Mr. Clinton, considering that its best American friends were Republicans Nixon and Bush, while Clinton, in the 1992 campaign, denounced President Bush as coddling the perpetrators of Tiananmen Square?
Once in office, though, Clinton adopted a more flexible position on China, detaching trade from human rights issues. And, in 1996, it was Bob Dole who was sounding tough on China. Furthermore, China needed Clinton support for admission to the World Trade Organization, now being negotiated in Geneva. And Beijing had been able to observe the effectiveness of the Taiwan lobby, generating enough pressure to pry a visa for its president, Lee Teng Hui, from the Clinton administration, precipitating a Taiwan Straits crisis.
In his second term Clinton hoped to raise engagement with China to something like the level of relations with Russia. The New Yorker reports that plans were being made for frequent summit meetings of the presidents and regular meetings between Vice President Al Gore and Premier Li Peng like the Gore-Chernomyrdin task force. But because of the flap over the Chinese money connection, that has been put on hold. How ironic when political money buys you not friendship, but trouble.
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.