Beijing’s Fragile Swagger


This piece originally ran in The Diplomat on 22 July, 2010.
hu jintao military review.jpgBEIJING’S FRAGILE SWAGGER
Confucius said ‘The superior man is firm in the right way, and not merely firm.’


6 comments on “Beijing’s Fragile Swagger

  1. Don Bacon says:

    Thank you for your courteous response. You have obviously absorbed and retained more oriental-type manners than I have exhibited in my overly harsh response to Steve’s diary. I should remember to remove my (verbal) boots when I’m in a man’s house.
    While I thoroughly disagree with almost everything Steve wrote, and fear the possible implementation of its ideas, I will shut up on the subject for now so that I don’t completely wear out my welcome (applause).


  2. Don Bacon says:

    At least Clinton’s attitude doesn’t approach Bush’s. Hopefully we won’t have a replay of President Hu’s visit to Washington on April 20, 2006.
    from Dana Milbank:
    The White House gave press credentials to a Falun Gong activist who five years ago heckled Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, in Malta. Sure enough, 90 seconds into Hu’s speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking, “President Hu, your days are numbered!” and “President Bush, stop him from killing!”
    Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her — a full three minutes — that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service’s strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse.
    The Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities — some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the “national anthem of the Republic of China” — the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child.
    Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang got, but the administration refused, calling it instead an “official” visit. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. Even the visiting country’s flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.
    But as protocol breaches go, it’s hard to top the heckling of a foreign leader at the White House. Explaining the incident — the first disruption at the executive mansion in recent memory — White House and Secret Service officials said she was “a legitimate journalist” and that there was nothing suspicious in her background. In other words: Who knew? (end of Dana Milbank extract)


  3. Adam Franklin says:

    East and West have always had a great ideological divide regardless of bumbling politicians who have not sought to deeply embrace the mindset of the other. Hilary is no exception and attempting to stiff arm a leviathan by ignoring it is simply futile and given China’s economic might and the astounding extent of the US debt to China it begs the question as to which people advised Hilary or did she choose this non diplomatic approach intuitively. Albeit often rhetoric between the two an inferior form of communication surpasses none at least by making way for the possibility of purposeful dialogue.


  4. AsiaHand says:

    Mr. Clemons, this is the most insightful and thoughtful article I have
    read on US-China relations in a long time. China is so diverse that
    people here can argue what they want and still be able to be right,
    or argue that. But you capture nuances extremely well. It’s
    important to recognize the different layers of face, of confidence,
    and of concern or fragility that are all mixed up here. This is
    absolutely one of the best pieces on China with all due respect to
    Mr. Clemons may not be an expert on Chinese culture but in a
    short time here he has gone to the heart of something many of us
    here in China feel and see in our interactions. That is not to say
    that Don S can’t also point to supporting evidence too. But it is to
    say that what you have written is what the leadership is thinking.


  5. Don Bacon says:

    Steve has spent some time in China now, but has unfortunately failed to absorb much of its history or culture, and is in this piece merely stating some obvious conventional wisdom backed up by a belligerent photo.
    Yes, the US is having trouble accepting China as a new world (or certainly Asia) hegemon. Yes, the US is still trapped by bi-polar cold war thinking, with its reliance on military power. Yes, China “provokes” the US with its weak resistance to US moves into its sphere (Tibet, Taiwan, China Seas).
    The biggest CW proclamation: The only thing China respects is force. “while these architects of China’s rise respect and respond to power, they view solicitousness and vacillation as weakness.” Where have we heard that before? And with respect to China it’s flat wrong.
    Historically, China (a 5,000 year old nation) has been occupied and harassed by western powers, including the US. The US Marines have been there, several times. The US naval fleet has sailed between China and its province of Taiwan. Currently, a US naval thinks that sailing around in the East China Sea is a cool move.
    Just recently the US SecState has proclaimed that China’s claims in the South China Sea are a matter of US concern. China has said : “Yes, we will talk about the South China Sea.” Note that China will not sent its naval fleet into the Gulf of Mexico in retaliation, it will talk about the South China Sea. Why?
    Culturally, one cannot understand China without understanding Taoism. Tao, The Way. It has been described as the course of a stream as it proceeds downward, taking the best path between obstacles. Patience and politeness, not power, pays.
    The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, is one of the most influential books in history, and it has a different take on power. Chapter 69: Winning a fight by giving in–
    Military strategists have a saying:
    “Rather than act like the lord of the manor,
    I would rather behave like a guest.
    Rather than advance an inch,
    I would rather retreat a foot.”
    The point of the saying is that you should:
    Advance upon them without going forward
    Seize their property without even bearing arms.
    Attack where there is no enemy.
    Prevail upon them without weapons.
    There is no greater disaster than to underestimate your enemy.
    If I did that, I would lose my 3 treasures (benevolence, frugality, never trying to be number one)
    In combat, the most reticent side will win.
    China will act in its own way (tao), based on its history and culture. That’s why China doesn’t interfere in other nations’ internal affairs, why it doesn’t sail its naval fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, and why it will talk to Secretary Clinton about the South China Sea.


  6. JohnH says:

    Your description makes it sound as if the US is exhibiting a “fragile swagger,” as well. The US prominently puts its military might on display with little positive outcome, while meekly trying to ingratiate itself with Israel and China.
    Despite that swagger, the US does indeed seem to behave as a desperate country, alternatively swinging between issuing vain threats and lashing out in pursuit of pointless military adventures.
    IMHO the problem here is not the US stature in the world, which is real. The problem is the US’ unbounded, unreasonable expectations for a global position well beyond its means.


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