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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama In China

China is handling its rise to power with more than a hint of dickishness. Granted, there is more than a century of humiliation behind the colorful Sino-American "backstory." And there have even been more recent frictions between China and America. A certain amount of pushback is to be expected.

I understand that.

But -- and this may suggest a certain naivete on this blogger's part -- it is also somewhat disconcerting to see all these Sino-American resentments clumsily playing themselves out on the world stage against the first African-American President. Barack Obama's charm initiative in Asia clearly presents a problem that China must nimbly finesse. I mean this not to imply that President Obama ought to be treated, somehow, with kid gloves in the gladiatorial fundament that is international politics (As if the mandarins of Beijing would listen to this blog).

Quite the contrary.

Strategically, what I'm saying is that it is not in Beijing's interest to try to humiliate Barack Obama on the international stage beyond the natural geopolitical pushback that is diplomatically expected. It's bad business. For one, Obama is popular -- more popular, if you can believe it, than China. China, like Obama's America, presently trafficks in the shadowy realm of "Soft Power," at least in this Great power transitional stage of its civilizational development; a clash between the two would probably have an result unfavorably for Beijing. Humiliating the unpopular George Bush would probably have had the intended effect that China appears to be going after geopolitically. But that ship has passed. Humiliating Barack Obama, logic dictates by virtue of his popularity, will probably have the opposite effect.

Here's another reason: overdoing a concerted media strategy aimed at weakening the American President probably won't fly too well with Africa, which houses natural resources essential to China's growth. Africa's young regard President Obama as a superlative example of principled manhood. Tread gently, Chinese dragon...

What "concerted media strategy" you say? What's with this paranoiac "humiliating Barack Obama" charge? From ForeignPolicy:

"This afternoon in Shanghai, U.S. President Barack Obama held a townhall-style meeting with university students. It was an event that his staff had worked hard to include on his China trip itinerary. After a brief speech extolling the importance of core values to the success of the United States as a nation and Americans as individuals, Obama took questions from the audience and online.

It has since come to light that not all of the questions came from bonafide students. One questioner was a vice director of daily affairs for the Communist Youth League; another was a young-looking teacher. Obama's answers about Internet freedom weren't heard by most remote audiences because several networks, including CNN, mysteriously cut away for commentary at that moment."

No wonder those questions seemed so studiously hostile. Did anyone else notice that? Future leadership positions in the party were probably on the line to the most compromising question asked of the American President. So Barack Obama was literally attending a stacked Presidential press conference -- a feat that is rarely attenpted by China's own leaders -- overseas, in the land of our greatest competitor. And these questioners, in their rigged context, had the nerve to question human rights and democracy? Charmed, I'm sure.

Now, granted, China has a history of trying to humiliate American politicians. Remember when they got Al Gore -- then Vice President, but widely assumed to be Bill Clinton's successor -- to toast Beijing's leadership with champagne?

Brutal. There was also the episode during the second Bush administration in which China returned a fallen sensitive spy plane back to America -- dissected -- and made the proud Colin Powell apologize. Awkward! I just don't think that colonial resentments will play among the G-77 ("-- and China") when applied against a widely popular child of the Third World.

Finally, a note to the talking heads who obsessively discuss -- beyond all decent measure -- China's economic growth (this means you, Niall "Empire Chaser" Ferguson). I am actually quite sick of men -- because, alas, it is principally men -- who almost worship China's currency reserves and rising status. For these sad souls inhabiting their own inner Dantean Inferno the love of Power is mightier than Patriotism. Salivating over the Chinese miracle, we cannot fail to note, does not equal participation in that event.

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