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US Security/China Security. Never The Twain Shall Meet?

Posted in China Business, China Travel

Flew to Beijing the other day.

Going through the security line in Seattle was an elderly obviously Japanese couple in front of me.  They were pulled over — presumably randomly — for a full-on talking to and pat-down.  As I walked past them I mused to myself that I was not aware of an elderly Japanese couple ever having engaged in terrorism and that pulling them over was a complete waste of time and of American goodwill.  They come to Seattle as tourists and are subjected to this.  There’s something both silly and wrong about that.

I land in Beijing and I walk through customs without anyone seeming to care one bit. But off to the side, I see what look like 5-6 poorly dressed Somali and Arab single men being intensely grilled by Chinese security. I felt bad for them, but….

I remember being in Korea not long after 9-11 and a Korean lawyer-friend assuring me that I had nothing to worry about there:  “Don’t worry,” he told me, “we have the names and locations of every Arab in this country and if anything at  all happens we will round all of them up and ship them out.  We are not like the United States.”  I’ll say.

Last time I went to Japan (less than a year ago), I noted how all of the people being subjected to extra scrutiny upon arrival were Filipino women.  I felt really bad about that too, yet I cannot deny I was happy to get through the entry line at warp speed.

Not sure I like either the random or the grouping approach. Both obviously have their glaring flaws.

China, Korea, Japan.  What makes these countries act one way and the United States another? What is a country to do? Which approach is better and why?  Call me a typical American, but I lean towards the civil liberties side.  I cannot stand the thought of marking an entire people when most are no threat at all.  Past performance is a predictor of future performance and nobody can sensibly deny that the odds of a young Saudi being a terrorist are a lot higher than an elderly Japanese, but still, the odds are low for both people.  And where do we stop?  A few months ago, a civil liberties lawyer on TV said that if we really want to stop crime, we should just incarcerate every male between 16 and 30. He’s right, but who wants to do that. If we diminish ourselves in how we treat others, the terrorists win.

It’s a tough world out there. What do you think?

  • KevinC

    I started to crack-up reading this. Bouncing between China, the US and South Korea dozens of times over the past three years I have seen this so many times. Personally, I have always attributed it to the fact that most Asian (and a lot of other countries) don’t have the appreciation for racism that Americans do. Insults are always anti-Chinese, anti-Korean or anti-Japanese, but never racist. In China, at least, derogatory comments about China/Chinese are branded anti-Chinese, but to be upset about a comment on your “whiteness” or “blackness” is considered 小心眼儿 (narrow-minded). Probably relates to the Asian vs. American perceptions of the individual vs. society.

    Anyway, I can’t say I disagree with any of your points above – being über pragmatic on the security front. I am ashamed to say that at this point I feel more stressed/inconvenienced dealing with American security than in security in foreign countries.

  • http://jacobyount.com/ Jacob Yount

    A good post and lots of food for thought. My simplistic conclusion is one side is more concerned with political correctness, the other side with assuring safety regardless of whose feelings are hurt. We can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya once we’re safely through security and to our destination. Otherwise, when it comes to safety, we shouldn’t worry about who feels warm inside.

    Also, I was going through Japan’s airport once, Narita I believe, and was singled out. It didn’t make me sad.

  • Michael Duffy

    Tourists should be profiled. Until the United States experiences terrorism from an elderly Japanese national, it seems a bit of a waste of time to grill them. On the other hand Somali and Saudi young male tourists should absolutely be checked out. Mix civil liberties with some common sense and maybe you will keep more of your civil rights in the long run.