Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Pomfret's Bias Views of US China Relations

This book review was posted on Amazon on Pomfret's Book, "The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom"

From a scholarship point of view, the first part of his book deserves 4 stars for the many interesting and obscured bits and factoids that he found and skillfully woven into his narrative. Unfortunately, when we come to the second part of his book where he surveys the recent history of the bilateral relationship between the US and China, his coverage is appallingly one sided and biased. The latter section is totally unbefitting of someone alleged to be a first-rate journalist. Pomfret undoubtedly decided that he needed to cater to the deeply ingrained bias of his reading public in order to sell more books rather than taking the opportunity to educate his readers of facts that they probably do not know. For this the author deserves a minus 3 stars for a net rating of one star.

One example should suffice. In his book, p562-3, he talks about Danny Stillman, whose mission was to gather intelligence on China's nuclear weapon development. Stillman made 9 separate trips into China to visit China's nuclear weapon development and test centers. Stillman then assembled the information and his notes into a book. The "crown jewel" according to Pomfret was a compilation of all of China's nuclear weapon tests. The Chinese "pleaded" with Stillman not to publish the list of tests. Stillman did so anyway. End of Story.

Except what Pomfret reported was hardly the full story. Reading his book, the readers would not know that Chinese scientists INVITED Stillman to visit China and opened the doors to him. The readers would be unaware that when Stillman first tried to publish his book, the Clinton Administration would not release the book for publication because they were in middle of the Wen Ho Lee fiasco and would have been doubly embarrassing to tell the American public that not only the Chinese didn't steal secrets from Los Alamos, they were giving secrets to the US.

Wouldn't a complete description of the incident, awkward though for the American side, be much more intriguing? I asked Pomfret in person about this matter, and he merely shrugged his should indicating the omission was of no consequence. It's not as if this incident was largely unknown. Any competent researcher would find the article written by Thomas Reed who described the entire matter in full. (Reed, former Secretary of Airforce, became Stillman's co-author.)

Pomfret considers himself to be a Sinologist, having lived in China and married a Chinese. He should have understood that the Chinese in letting Stillman see their nuclear weapon development was acting in line with the logic from Sun Tzu's Art of War, i.e., making sure that Pentagon did not make a miscalcution by underestimating China's capability to retaliate.

No comments: