Hunting Down Bad Guys: China vs. the U.S.

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REUTERS / China Daily

Convicted drug lord Naw Kham heads for the Chinese execution chamber March 1.

A pair of ostensibly unrelated New York Times‘ stories recently jumped out at me.

Understand, the paper itself made no attempt to link the two.

What struck me was just how calmly the Times reported 3,000 (!) targeted assassinations by the Obama Administration since 2009, after rather breathlessly noting – just days before – China’s “hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.”

Granted, the paper took both governments to task for their actions. It’s just that the wording and tone differed so much:  matter-of-fact for the de facto White House Office of Global Assassination, but notably alarmed about China’s “powerful Ministry of Public Security” nabbing and executing one guy — convicted drug lord Naw Kham.

Beijing, you see, coordinated this drug lord’s capture by local Laotian police, and then had him immediately extradited to China, where he was summarily tried and executed him in a live TV broadcast. Beijing, it seems, thought about simply offing this guy with a drone, but decided against that. The drug lord was found guilty of masterminding the murder of 13 Chinese seamen operating on a Laotian river.

The action was compared – quite brilliantly I thought – to the U.S. sending General John Pershing down to Mexico to nab Pancho Villa after he killed 18 Americans in New Mexico in 1916.  Reference was also made, via the same quoted expert, to this being a preliminary display of China’s “Monroe Doctrine” for Southeast Asia.

Fair enough, say I. Great powers reserve the right to police bad actors in their neighborhoods.

It just got me thinking, though.

America currently reserves the right to kill something like 700 to 800 foreign citizens a year – often right in nations bordering China (Afghanistan, Pakistan) — and that’s just “targeted killing” coming “to define war on terror” and constituting a “mark of the Obama era.”  But if China arrests and then publicly executes somebody in its actual neighborhood (and not on the other side of the planet) . . . well, that is provocative, my friends!

Seriously, sometimes it just gets so clear that America’s hypocrisy on such subjects is painfully obvious to everybody but ourselves.

Last week OPEC predicted that China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of oil by 2014. It’s a stunning turn of historical trends, reflecting both the U.S. fracking revolution and Beijing’s skyrocketing energy use.

So understand, in that unfolding future global reality, it makes far more sense for China to be killing several hundreds of bad actors truly distant from its shores, and for America to go back to occasionally nabbing the local Villa types, and, by and large, minding its own strategic business.

Now, we all know that’s not going to happen any time soon.

My point is simply to note that China’s still vastly underperforms in the flaunting-of-clout department while the U.S. still vastly over-reaches – relative to actual global economic connectivity/dependency of each nation.

In truth, we should be celebrating what China did.

Washington keeps complaining to Beijing that it needs to play more of the “responsible stakeholder” role.  Well, Beijing just did. And it bothered to hold a trial before executing the bad guy, something the U.S. rarely deigns to do (as the Times’ story nicely pointed out).

So just remember these relative distinctions the next time we (the kettle) decide to call the pot (China) black for its supposedly provocative actions.

Washington has a tendency to hold other powers to standards that it routinely flaunts – plain and simple.