What Do We Want From China?

One of the most ludicrous things I’ve heard work its way into the American political discourse recently is the notion that understanding is akin to appeasement and weakness. It seems to me that the real reason behind the reluctance to engage in more diplomacy is the offspring of a national strategy bricolage of lobbyist handiwork and strawman positions offered up by politicans trying to get elected.

Nowhere is this more evident than how America deals with China. We need a clear (and dare I say strategic!) understanding of what we want from their government, citizens, and institutions as a starting point for understanding. We’re sadly not there, and there is an increasing perception in China that the west is impossible to please. In reading this post by blogger Elliott Ng and commenter CninDC at CN reviews, I’ve begun to understand this lack of focus is even taking its toll on the Olympic games. CninDC writes:

“If you watch news in China you’ve probably already noticed that the China’s domestic Olympic propaganda has been dramatically toned down from wanting a most successful Olympic to a merely safe one. The reality is there, that a most successful Olympic is already beyond our reach. The people they wanted to impress the most, the western media and the general public from the western countries, are impossible to please. So they go for the next best one, that at least it’s safe, no ugly scenes (or at least not a major one), and the Chinese can enjoy the party all by themselves.”

The larger point is that if we Americans don’t have a strong sense of what we want, the Chinese will eventually come to a collective “oh, fuck it”, and stop reaching out. Many of the Chinese already feel like the west is impossible to please.

Both sides need to bridge-build, of course. A large part of the problem is Chinese misconceptions about what “the west” is and is not. I’ve come to roll my eyes a bit when I hear the term from some of my friends, since the west doesn’t speak with one voice but instead is a chorus of many voices. Lumping so many different nationalities, objectives, ethics, religions, and languages will almost certainly make that group impossible to please. They’ll have to make the leap of understanding that we’re not a homogenous “west”, which in time I’m convinced will happen.

We in turn need to define our priorities as a nation and communicate them clearly (both to them and to ourselves). To that point, I’ll reproduce below a moment of zen courtesy of a cbc forum poet without further comment:

What do you want from us?

When we were called “sick man of Asia”, we were called peril.
When we billed to be the next superpower, we’re called the threat

When we closed our doors, you smuggled drugs to open markets.
when we embrace free trade, you blame us for taking away your jobs.

when we’re falling apart, you marched in your troops and wanted your fair share.
when we’re putting the broken pieces together, “Free Tibet” you screamed! “it was invasion.”

So we tried communism, you hated us for being communist.
So we embraced capitalism, you hate us for being capitalist,

Then we have a billion people, you said we’re destroying the planet.
Then we limit our numbers, you said it was human rights abuses.

When we were poor, you think we’re dogs,
When we loan you cash, you blamed us for your debts.

When we build our industries, you called us polluters.
When we sell you goods, you blamed us for global warming,
When we buy oil, you called that exploitation and genocide.

When we were lost in chaos and rampage, you wanted rule s of laws for us.
When we uphold law and order against violence, you called that violation of human rights.

When we were silent, you said you want us to have free speech.
When we were silent no more, you say we were brainwashed.

Why do you hate us so much? We asked. “No”. You answered, “we don’t hate you”.
We don’t hate you either Bud, do you understand us?? “of course we do”, you said, “We have CNN, BBC, and CBC”.

But why, we still feel, your western people are not happy with us.

What do you really want from us??

My friend, What do you really want from us??

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This entry was published on July 28, 2008 at 11:45 AM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “What Do We Want From China?

  1. Great post, Eric, and thanks for your thoughts on this discourse. You are absolutely right that the concept “The West” is virtually meaningless because of the incredible diversity of what is underneath that generalization.

    The whole theme of “soft power projection” is something that I think the CN government needs to think more about. It is the original intent of the Olympics I think but creating inflated expectations and trying to shock and awe doesn’t seem like the right approach to engagement.

    Anyway, look forward to further discussion on this topic…

  2. I was reminded of this post last night when listening to a commentator summing up the Olympic games on the radio. It went something like this ‘The 2008 Beijing Olympic games were ultimately disappointing. Sure they went off without a hitch, at a scale we are never likely to see again, and the welcome and helpfullness of the voluntary work force was second to none. But there was a sense of a missed opportunity for China to show the world they are changing’ The interviewer pressed for more specifics on what opportunities were missed but only got very vague references China’s human rights record and a reassertion that the games were a missed opportunity and ultimately disappointing!

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