O, the Difference a Vowel Makes

Where spheres of influence are concerned, the 1990s and the 1980s pale in comparison to 2003, which recently thrust into the limelight Neil M. Bush, a brother of George W. Bush. Court papers in his flamboyantly scandal-ridden divorce revealed that Bush received a $2 million contract from a new, large Taiwanese company called Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing.

The contract hired Bush as a consultant in return for $400,000 per year in company stock for five years. In his deposition, Bush disclaimed expertise in semiconductors but stated that he has traveled extensively in Asia. (Bush, who has not responded to questions and requests for comment placed through his companies, reportedly told the Associated Press that he has not received the payments because he has not done the consultancy work yet.) While traveling abroad, Bush is provided by the taxpayers with Secret Service protection. Aside from his business trips, reportedly two or three days a week, he also has a fiancee living in Paris.

Grace Semiconductor has two founders; one is a son of the former president of mainland China. Bush received his contract from the other founder, a Taiwanese businessman named Winston Wong. Wong was also among early investors in Neil Bush's educational software company, Ignite! Learning.

Now let's hit the reverse button.

Back in the 1990s, the Clinton White House got into trouble when Winston Wang (spelled WANG, but pronounced "wong"), a Taiwanese businessman, had coffee at the White House in June 1995, and allegedly followed up the visit by promising a $100,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee. People wondered, and rightly, what made a cup of coffee so valuable.

The White House took some appropriate heat. Holders of public office, especially highest office, should not stoop to the appearance of trading favors, even absent illegality. In consideration for the public, they should not lend themselves even to the appearance of undue influence, and most people would consider $100,000 to be influence.

As it turns out, Clinton's Winston Wang is one and the same as Neil Bush's Winston Wong.

Yes, that's right; in a sterling example of don't-they-ever-learn, Neil Mallon Bush (named after a founder of Dresser Industries, a Bush-connected company that became a subsidiary of Halliburton) entered into a contract with Winston Wang, the same man whose White House visit contributed to a political tempest. Evidently the reason no one has noticed this connection is that the last name is now spelled, in most print reports, with an "o" instead of an "a".

Seldom can a vowel have been as important on Wheel of Fortune.

Wang was one of several Asian businessmen introduced to the Clinton White House in 1995 by Charles "Charlie" Trie, an Asian-American businessman who owned a Chinese restaurant in Little Rock frequented by Bill Clinton.

Corporatist media "conservatives" including Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly gave full throat to Trie (always called "Charlie"). A Lexis search on his name retrieves over 1,000 items from 1996 through 2000.

Winston Wang is the son of billionaire Y.C. Wang, regarded as Taiwan's most powerful businessman, head of mega-conglomerate Formosa Plastics Company and married, in the old Chinese fashion, to three wives. The younger Wang headed a large FPC subsidiary called Nan Ya Plastics, until he was suspended from FPC after his own extramarital affair created adverse news reports. His father refused to designate the son's girlfriend officially as a concubine.

Through spokesman George Gau, the Formosa Plastics Company states that Wang has not been connected to any part of the company for nine years.

Interestingly, the media lineup that devoted such attention to Trie and the Clinton White House visits never actually named either Winston Wang or Formosa Plastics. Could it be that they found a relatively small-time businessman and FOB a better target than a Taiwanese billionaire's son?

Or was there a more specific reason? In his March 1, 2000, testimony before Congress, Trie told the House Committee on Government Reform, "When I met Winston Wang, he told me that he had met with President Bush when he was President. Mr. Wang wanted to meet President Clinton as well."

The meeting with former President Bush also went unmentioned, in months of frothing commentary over "a vast conspiracy to 'funnel' Chinese money into the American political system," as Trie put it.

On Oct. 28, 1996, a UPI wire summarized a Chinese-language article in a Hong Kong newsweekly, "Magazine follows Taiwan-Clinton cash trail," pointing out that the Indonesian donations by Mochtar Riady's Lippo Group and others were "dwarfed by the amounts associated with Taiwan:

"In its boldest assertion, the magazine charged that [Taiwan's ruling party] offered to give the US Democratic Party $15 million ... [parties involved] denied making the offer. But the magazine's chief editor, L.P. Yau, told UPI he was confident that the source of the article had witnessed the conversation and the offer was made."

This flamboyant assertion led to libel lawsuits in Taiwan, ultimately won by the publisher in both lower and higher courts.

True or false, the item was followed up by The American Spectator, but the rest of the corporate right wing did not keep this particular ball rolling.

Could it be that Taiwan's billions in goodwill were, to put it nicely, being placed in reserve, for a future administration to benefit from? Come to think of it, maybe some lessons were learned.

But for whatever reasons, the public never heard much about that branch of the topic. Nor have we heard much recently, from the White House at least, about appearance of impropriety or about relatives of heads of state making deals with foreign companies.

In fact, as mentioned, we're not even privileged to hear that Clinton's Winston Wang is now Neil Bush's Winston Wong.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who writes in the D.C. area. Email

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