Writings and observations

Carlson: The grain of truth

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There was some hullabaloo a couple months back about the possible establishment of a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) near the Boise Airport with the People’s Republic of China.

Some members of Idaho’s Republican right wing immediately smelled a plot. Conservative Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was accused of selling off Idaho to the “Reds.” Resolutions condemning the FTZ were passed in several counties by GOP central committees. Obsequious legislators promised to introduce legislation prohibiting such heinous activity.

The media had a fine time ridiculing this paranoia by the philosophical descendents of the John Birch Society. Proponents were likened to the all-time champion communist hunting senator from Wisconsin, Joseph A. McCarthy, and his cohort in the Senate, Herman Welker, mockingly known as “Little Joe from Idaho.”

As is the case, though, beneath the hullabaloo, an element of truth is present. After all, Senators McCarthy and Welker were partially correct – there were card-carrying members of the American Communist Party working in the State Department and sympathizers in Hollywood. The issue was the excessive abuse of one’s civil liberties the witch-hunting senators applied in their zeal to save America from the threat of take over from within.

The element of truth lingering beneath the surface of this latest manifestation of a commie under every bed is the fact that the Chinese are well on their way to achieving a super power role and becoming the world’s dominant power by the end of this century. To say this is not to be paranoid. The factual evidence is already present.

Say what one wants, but the Chinese are executing a 50-year plan that will see their economy replacing ours as the world’s largest. As most military experts will testify, it is economic might that underlies true military strength, and the Chinese appear to have divined that the key to both economic and military might is controlling the production and ownership of the so-called rare earth minerals critical to the further development of technological aids in the world of computers and advanced electronics.

Statistics published by the National Mining Association indicate the Chinese already own or have a dominant position in firms controlling 96 percent of the world’s production of rare earth minerals. Some argue this reflects the realities of the demands of China’s expanding economy and is not a consequence of any strategy to dominate the future. Rather it is a necessity. Perhaps.

Idaho is a player on the chessboard of world geo-politics also, though not because of the possible establishment of a free trade zone.

To their credit Governor Otter, Senators Crapo and Risch, and Second District Congressman Mike Simpson have been strong supporters of the development by Vancouver-based Formation Metals of a new cobalt mine some 40 miles west of Salmon.

While not a rare earth metal, it was for some years a strategic metal. The government maintained stockpiles for emergencies. It is still a critical metal vital to a variety of application from medical uses to important defense uses. Despite the pledges of the owners to develop and operate the mine and the metal processing in a safe and environmentally compatible manner, and even with the support of the Idaho Conservation League, it still took over 15 years to obtain the necessary permits.

When the project is running next year it will be the only primaru cobalt mine in the western hemisphere. And don’t think the Chinese are not aware of it. Some analysts worry that if the present owners were to decide to sell there could be an interesting bidding war among some of the world’s major minerals companies. A wary eye would be needed to discern whether China wasn’t a possible silent partner in someone’s bid.

Idaho is also home to what some analysts consider to be an excellent rare earth mine site, but it is on Lemhi Pass, where Lewis and Clark first entered Idaho. Of the 17 elements considered rare earths most are present at this site, but one of them, thorium, is a radioactive element which would complicate the permitting process. Besides the federal land agency involved (the US Forest Service), as well as the various state agencies in Idaho and Montana, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be a player.

The sad complicating reality is America’s planners, as well as its corporate investors, think only of short-term returns, rather than the longer term that prevails in Chinese thinking.

To really understand what our nation is up against one should read Simon Winchester’s excellent book, “The Man Who Loved China.” It is the fascinating story of a true card-carrying British communist/socialist, Joseph Needham, a brilliant scientist and freethinking intellectual who basically proved that just about every significant thing ever invented by mankind was invented first in China often a good thousand years before it was invented in the west. The book’s appendix lists the major ones and it is simply stunning.

The book ends with the author visiting Jiuquan, the site of China’s super-secret space center, the place where the People’s Liberation Army has perfected its ICBM’s, placed with flawless launch after flawless launch dozens of satellites in space (including possible killer satellites), and sent its own men into space.

There is a huge billboard as one approaches the town near the site. In both bold Chinese and English letters the sign simply says: “Without Haste, Without Fear, We Conquer the World!”

What’s that old weather saying about “Red sun in the morning, sailor take warning”?

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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