Chinese Fail to Live Up to Spying and Treachery Hype Yet Again

Last month’s industrial espionage case filed against three Chinese NYU Med Center researchers only underscores what I’ve been suspecting for some time — as a group we Asians are seriously lacking in the capacity for top-drawer acts of disloyalty, betrayal and treachery.

Even with hundreds of thousands of us working in fields like biotech, semiconductors, aerospace, nuclear energy, defense, IT and finance. we simply haven’t shown that we’re capable of committing the kinds of treacherous and venal acts that have been so generously imputed to us over the years. Imagine the deepening disappointment of the army of journalists and rightwingers who have been earnestly waiting for the kinds of stories that would prove once and for all that we’re worthy of our image as people prone to heinous acts of disloyalty to our country, or at least to our employers.

What do we have to show for all their faith? A pitiful case in which someone offered technical insights about work he’s doing at NYU Langone Medical Center to people linked to a Chinese company with ties to the Chinese government.

Despite the level best efforts of eagle-eyed US Attorney Preet Bharara to work up the facts into another headline case that Barack Obama can use to badger Xi Jinping about intellectual property protection during their summit this weekend, the best Bharara could come up with was a bribery charge for having failed to reveal that they were on the payrolls of Chinese companies with whom they discussed their NYU work in the medical technology of magnetic resonance imaging.

If they had at least managed to steal and sell a bona fide trade secret or two, Bharara could have slapped them with economic espionage charges. The worst that could be said about this trio? That they discussed “nonpublic information” about their work. Not exactly sexy reading.

Yet another huge disappointment in a line of cases that have the right atmospherics — Chinese talking to Chinese about American technology — but simply fail to live up to the hype about our limitless capacity for treachery. Once again we’ve fallen short of the kind of diabolical cunning that could spice up newspapers or justify breathless TV breaking-news feeds.

Of course the biggest disappointment in recent memory is Dr Wen Ho Lee. The guy was a nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Labs and the best he could do to live up to American expectations was copy some semi-classified files onto his laptop. Never tried to send them to China. Never tried to sell them to an agent. Even refused a Chinese agent’s request for data while they were engaged in a tête-à-tête inside a hotel room.

Despite all of Lee’s work with classified data, and despite the best efforts of the FBI to set him up, the lamer only managed to snag a single count of “improper handling of restricted data”. All those poor news organizations that had been salivating at the atmospherics — nuclear energy, Chinese scientist, classified data — ended up having to publish retractions about their innuendos and chip in for the $1.6-million settlement paid to Lee. Disappointing all around, especially after Lee spent nine months in solitary and got everyone worked up over the possibility of the first ever case of an Asian American betraying his adoptive country to help the homies back on the other side of the Pacific.

And of course those Japanese Americans never amounted to much in the treachery department either. Not a single act of sabotage or espionage or even cooperation with the enemy during World War II after the US government went through the trouble of sending 120,000 of them to rural retreats, presumably to protect them from white people who were out to harm them for their sneaky treachery in tracing their roots to a land that would later bomb Pearl Harbor.

It’s gotten so I’m beginning to wonder if we Asians are worthy of our vaunted reputation for cunning, deceit and treachery.