Chen Weihua

Losing sight of the huge watermelon

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-12 06:49
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Jiang Haisong, a 28-year-old Chinese doctoral student at Rutgers University in northeastern United States, won't easily forget the recent kiss he had with his girlfriend.

Jiang ducked the security rope at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Jan 3 to say goodbye to his girlfriend while a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guard was away momentarily. A bystander reported the security breach to TSA officials and three terminals were shut down for some seven hours, stranding 16,000 domestic and international passengers at the busy transit hub.

The local police conducted a five-day manhunt before they found and arrested Jiang last Friday evening. He was released after hours of questioning.

The Newark Municipal Court will hear Jiang's case this week on the charges of defiant trespassing as alleged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The fine is usually up to $500.

But this is not a simple case.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has called for a harsh punishment. Some have suggested revoking Jiang's student visa and deporting him, although US immigration officials said a misdemeanor would not justify a visa withdrawal.

It is true what Jiang did was totally inappropriate and illegal, but he does not deserve to be kicked out of the country simply because he is an international student who committed a misdemeanor.

This is not to say that Jiang, a molecular biosciences doctoral student set to graduate in the coming May, is the kind of future scientist the US wants to attract, but US laws should not treat foreign students differently from American citizens.

Jiang clearly didn't realize his bad timing. The maximum security and the kind of paranoia at US airports after Sept 11, 2001, means zero tolerance for any security offense. For one thing, such a prolonged shutdown of airport terminals would unlikely be imposed in other parts of the world in the event of a similar security breach.

The timing actually could not be worse: US authorities have been excessively criticized lately after a radical Nigerian youth tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight with a chemical bomb, only nine days before Jiang's drama.

While Jiang was condemned by many angry Americans, he was also hailed by some as a hero for exposing and alerting TSA security loopholes, such as the ineptness of surveillance cameras and the airport's guards. That is what Sen Lautenberg should truly care about.

Jiang has in a way stirred up Americans about how lax airport security is despite huge efforts pledged by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Just imagine what would happen if Jiang were another crazy man who was carrying a self-made bomb. He could have had killed hundreds or thousands of people.

What Jiang's improper behavior exposed was truly embarrassing for authorities, similar to an incident years ago when reporters from the New York Daily News and other media organizations had succeeded in smuggling banned items through airport security for story assignments.

That said, Jiang owes a sincere apology to the passengers inconvenienced by the delay. He should feel sorry for the sum of US taxpayers' money spent in the following days' search and investigation. However, he also deserves some thanks from the public for unintentionally exposing loopholes in the so-called maximum-security airports. Heightened security from now on would probably help prevent terrorists from boarding flights in the future.

While actions by the Daily News journalists and Jiang would be both called unethical and illegal, we should not "pick up a sesame seed while losing sight of a watermelon" as the Chinese saying goes. In this case, Jiang is the sesame seed while the gigantic security loophole is the watermelon.

I plan to go to the Newark Municipal Court to attend Jiang's hearing. I wish him good luck.