The Cox report on Chinese espionage in the United States has provoked bitter counterattack from Beijing. The Chinese defense against the detailed, bipartisan and sober allegations of systematic theft of U.S. nuclear secrets runs through these stages:
You are mistaken. It did not happen. What? You persist? You are prejudiced, politically and racially. You fabricate. Anyway, everybody does this and you cannot stop it. And all this makes no difference in the real world. There are higher values than your "truth."
Sound familiar? It should, especially in the week that marks the 10th anniversary of the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square by this same Leninist government. This is the Tiananmen defense, in which Americans are told to disbelieve or disregard their own eyes and ears for their own good.
This defense is in part a cultural and ideological reflex by the Chinese gerontocracy. But it also comes out of recent experience: Beijing has seen two American presidents decide that the political killings and brutal repression that began on June 4, 1989, were not an American problem.
But they were, and still are. That is the hidden message of the Cox committee's assessment of China's underlying attitude toward the United States, as seen in the risks Beijing was willing to take during the past decade to establish China's ability to deliver a small number of nuclear warheads against U.S. targets.
George Bush agonized briefly over the killings in Beijing streets and then decided the bloodshed could not be allowed to disrupt U.S.-Chinese relations. Bill Clinton characteristically agonized much longer and then effusively embraced the Chinese as ideal candidates for a strategic partnership.
The three-volume report of the House Select Committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) shows that Chinese spying on U.S. nuclear warhead designs and other secrets began long before Tiananmen.
But the weak post-Tiananmen response from the West can only have encouraged China's spymasters to continue their business as usual in the belief they would not run much risk of detection or serious reprisals. Without the Cox committee, they may have been right.
Clinton's incessant stress on the importance of China to his foreign policy advertised to Beijing that this White House would not face up to inconvenient truths about the totalitarian nature of China's leadership.
It is wishful thinking to suppose that regimes that behave like beasts to their own citizens will keep their word and work for moral, enlightened purposes in international affairs if they receive a little encouragement from Uncle Sam.
But Bush and Clinton made that unrealistic wish the basis for engagement with China. They compartmentalized Chinese behavior in their own minds, building tall walls between "human rights" and "strategic interests" as conflicting, irreconcilable values in U.S. foreign policy. But in a nation as big, ancient and powerful as China, this is a false dichotomy.
Fearful of losing control, the world's last major communist leadership is united in its determination to intimidate first its citizens and then its foreign adversaries. Instead of compartmentalizing, Beijing sees everything as linked: Dissidents are not home-grown. They are agents of Taiwan and the United States. All acts are justified in putting down foreign-inspired subversion.
The killings 10 years ago were totally unnecessary in power terms. Covering the protests, I was repeatedly struck with how modest the demands of student activists were. They could have been easily persuaded to leave the square by a leadership willing to listen to them and respond. But the Chinese population and the world as a whole had to be shown that such protest was unacceptable.
The spying documented in the Cox report aims toward a similar end-product of intimidation. China cannot hope to prevail in a nuclear war against the United States. The information on warheads and testing codes it has stolen can, however, convince Washington that individual American targets -- the city of Los Angeles, troops stationed in Asia -- can now be hit by a Chinese nuclear launch.
In a crisis, the specter of this threat could be enough to deter Washington from saving Taiwan. That may be why China has been so obvious in the way it conducted its nuclear espionage, even as it publicly insists the spying never happened.
The Cox report shows it did. Truth does out, and it does survive. That is a vital lesson of Tiananmen Square 10 years after it did happen.