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Port: An apology to Mike (or maybe it was Matt)

China's regime is demonstrably monstrous, yet it's hard to get Americans to come to grips with that. 

A police officer stands guard in front of a portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, on Jan. 22, 2019.
Giulia Marchi / Bloomberg

MINOT — Years ago, when I was a talk radio host, a regular staple of my broadcasts was a call-in from some guy in Fargo who always wanted to talk about China.

This guy.

This Mike. Or maybe Matt. I honestly can't remember.


He was frustrating.


He'd want to talk about our trade imbalance with China. Or China's use of its massive economic clout to project its authoritarianism.

I was dismissive of Matt (or Mike), and not just because I disagreed with him on China, but because it was all he ever wanted to talk about. It didn't matter what the topic or guest was; this dude wanted to talk about China.

Most of you don't know what it's like to be a talk show host, but let me tell you, there aren't a lot of things in that profession more frustrating than a caller who derails a segment with an off-topic rant.

A school official frustrated with a reporter's coverage was able to convince a law enforcement agent to launch an investigation that included seizing that reporter's phone so she could comb through all the personal and professional information on it. That shouldn't have happened, and it cannot happen again.

It got to the point where my producers would screen his calls unless I happened to be actually discussing something related to China.

I owe this guy, this Mike or Matt or whoever, an apology.

At the time, I believed what generations of American politicians believed, which was that tying China's economic interests to our own through free(ish) trade policies would moderate and ultimately undermine that regime's oppressive impulses.

How could the hapless Communists keep their iron grip on the billions of their citizens exposed, increasingly, to western culture and ideas? If they saw our movies and our sports teams, if they witnessed the relative affluence of our middle class, they'd demand change.

That's not how it worked out.


Today, China's tyrannical tendencies continue. Right out in the open.

The whole world knows about the concentration camps. Plenty of American companies profit from that forced labor .

Workers move soybeans from a temporary storage bunker into silos at the CFS grain elevator in Randolph, Minn., on Dec. 6, 2018.
Mark Vancleave / Minneapolis Star Tribune

We know about China's censorship because they're getting American corporations like Disney and Microsoft to play ball with it. Celebrities criticize our government in ways that would get them re-educated under the Chinese regime (just ask tennis star Peng Shuai ) yet they have little to say about China , from safely within America's borders, lest the Chinese release of their latest movie get canceled.

China's regime is demonstrably monstrous, yet it's hard to get Americans to come to grips with that.

China was a big part of North Dakota's hotly-contested U.S. Senate race between Kevin Cramer and Heidi Heitkamp in 2018, but only as a customer for North Dakota's soybeans . Selling soybeans is important for North Dakota, but should that overshadow the reality of what China is?

A horrendously oppressive regime, that holds over $1 trillion worth of our national debt , and was built on the back of censorship, slave labor and autocracy?

It should not.

So here it is, Mike (or Matt), an apology that's about as public as I can make it.


You were right. I was wrong.

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