Correction: The print version of this letter incorrectly described the writer’s position at the Defense Department.

The May 21 editorial “Oh, dam!” aptly noted China’s dictatorial governance. Punish citizens who question official decisions such as the colossally misguided Three Gorges Dam. Then, when reality vindicates the critics, blame individual mistakes “rather than anything inherent in an authoritarian, one-party state.”

Democratic governments similarly err in pushing through certain major construction projects or other programs, but our leaders “listen to the critics — instead of jailing and repressing” them. And when they don’t listen, there is political, and sometimes legal, accountability.

As the editorial noted, “China’s rulers have a lot of experience with halfway contrition,” such as “the Communist Party’s oft-repeated condemnation of the Cultural Revolution, which is said to reflect the mistakes of extreme factions.”

Other cases: faulty construction that killed thousands of schoolchildren in the 2008 earthquake and official wrongdoing in the HIV/AIDS, SARS and avian flu outbreaks.

June 4 will mark the anniversary of the outrage that China most wants the world to forget: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which still instructs Arab and Iranian tyrants who shoot peaceful demonstrators in the street.

Like the other catastrophes, that one was also perpetrated by an “extreme faction” of Chinese society: the Communist government itself.

Joseph A. Bosco, Washington

The writer was China country director in the office of the defense secretary from 2005 to 2006.

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This reader is hard-pressed to find a difference between China’s form of excuse-making regarding environmental disasters and the democratic version in the United States. Economic development is the driving rationale for both, with the well-oiled promise of more opportunity for all. Some advantage- taking at the top is par for the course here and there, and the culprits are indistinguishable in motive and method among public and private gene pools.

I can’t find any comfort in differentiating malfeasance on the scale of China’s Three Gorges Dam and our BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. In both examples, governments appear to be lieutenants to a larger corporate strategy.  

Art James, Port Orchard, Wash.

2250 Sidney Ave., Port Orchard, WA. 98366, (360)876-3604,

I offer the following letter to the editor regarding today’s excellent “Oh, dam” editorial. As special assistant to the secretary of transportation from 1969-73, I participated in countless decisions on controversial transportation projects which were blocked by citizen protests (e.g., a jetport in the Everglades, highways through the French Quarter, Overton Park, the Old Man of the Mountains, Three Sisters Bridge). In subsequent years I taught China-Taiwan-U.S. relations at Georgetown’s school of foreign service and served as China country director in the office of the secretary of defense from 2005-06. (I opposed the Three Gorges Dam from its inception.)

3121 Newark Street NW Washington, DC 20008 202 427-3121 home: 202 244-8751