mincing-rascal-lawyerChinese state media is slagging the U.S. as a “mincing rascal” and “high-level hooligan” in response to federal hacking charges filed against five members of the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398.

As is the usually the case when you interpolate between the Sino-Tibetan and the Indo-European language families, something has obviously been lost in translation. But, as with North Korea’s bellicose tirades — they recently called South Korea’s president a “crafty prostitute” and President Obama her “powerful pimp” — weird interpretations are 99% of the fun.

Despite the trans-Pacific linguistic hiccups, however, the Chinese government’s gist — that Americans are playing cute with their hypocrisy, deploying lawyerly distinctions without a difference in a lamely transparent attempt to validate its own NSA’s electronic eavesdropping against China — is clear. Not to mention hard to deny.

There was once a time when Americans were like John Wayne: Straight shooters, who did what they had to do. We weren’t stylish like the French or smart like the Brits or terrifyingly accurate with firearms like the Afghans. But you could always count on Americans to keep their word. I say “word” because, being people of few words, we preferred singular to plural.

When General MacArthur said “I shall return,” everyone knew exactly what it meant (never mind that he actually returned somewhere else.)

That era is dead.

Now we, or at least our government, is known around the world as a culture of “mincing rascals,” of weasely lawyers who parse what the meaning of “is” is.

Follow, if you can, the U.S. government’s official “why we are not hypocrites” line on hacking. If you agree, congrats! You are a rare bird. For, as The New York Times notes in a piece bearing the headline “With Spy Charges, U.S. Draws a Line That Few Others Recognize, “while American officials are loath to admit it, Washington’s view has relatively few advocates around the world.”

As usual.

As The Times explains, the NSA spies on people in other countries, including China. It spies on foreign government, including China. But it does not spy on foreign companies for the direct benefit of specific American companies. However, it does spy on foreign economic sectors:

Even before Mr. Snowden walked out of the Hawaii facilities of the N.S.A. with a trove of documents, it was clear that the United States was not above economic espionage, as long as it was not for the direct benefit of specific companies.

For example, the United States spies regularly for economic advantage when the goal is to support trade talks; when the Clinton administration was locked in a high-stakes negotiation in the 1990s to reach an accord with Japan, it bugged the Japanese negotiator’s limousine. At the time, the chief beneficiaries would have been the Big Three auto companies and a smattering of parts suppliers. It is also widely believed to be using intelligence in support of trade negotiations underway with European and Asian trading partners. But in the view of a succession of Democratic and Republican administrations, that is fair game.

Of course, China’s nominally communist, authoritarian political system maintains close government ties to “private” companies, closely integrating Communist Party officials into boards of directors. So, in many business sectors, there’s one dominant “private” corporation or family of companies. As far as we know, the NSA doesn’t share what it learns about Chinese companies with, say, Cisco or Apple. But it’s an apple-to-oranges comparison that neither China, nor just about anyone else, is buying.

Anyway, the NSA does spy on specific companies abroad:

Companies can also be targets. Documents released by Mr. Snowden showed that the American government pried deep into the servers of Huawei, one of China’s most successful Internet and communications companies. The documents made clear that the N.S.A. was seeking to learn whether the company was a front for the People’s Liberation Army and whether it was interested in spying on American firms. But there was a second purpose: to get inside Huawei’s systems and use them to spy on countries that buy the company’s equipment.

Huawei officials said they failed to understand how that differed meaningfully from what the United States has accused the Chinese of doing.

Pretty mincey.

[image via simpsons.wikia.com]