Dear Dr. Boli: So what should we do about China? Huh? —Sincerely, Jos. Biden, No Fixed Address.

Dear Sir: China presents an interesting and difficult case in foreign relations. On the one hand, China harasses and imprisons dissident intellectuals; on the other hand, she gives us Yunnan tea. On the one hand, she suppresses religious freedom; on the other hand, she gives us an inexhaustible supply of affordable fountain pens.

It is therefore the duty of every thinking American to establish a dissident budget, which details the number of dissidents we are willing to spend in exchange for the things from China that we are not willing to do without. Only thus can we make any rational decisions about our dealings with China. Dr. Boli, for example, is willing to spend quite a number of dissidents on Yunnan tea.

If you feel a bit grubby after making what you might legitimately regard as a cold and cynical calculation, it might console you to compare the number of Chinese jailed for dissenting from their country’s speech policies to the number of Americans jailed for dissenting from their country’s drugs policies. Or, on second thought, it might not console you at all.