Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Ongoing Clash between China and America

Sometimes a picture says it all. Sometimes it does not. The picture might not reveal a hidden truth, but it might reveal something about attitudes. In this case, the picture reveals the attitudes of Chinese citizens toward the United States.

You see, while we are gnashing our teeth over Russian collusion, the truth, as several sage commentators have noted, is that our main international competition comes from China. This does not mean that we are at war with China or that we should be at war with China or that we are going to be war with China. Nations compete and civilizations clash. In the best circumstances they avoid major military confrontations.

The Chinese government has been involved in a trade dispute with the United States. It has something to do with tariffs. Given that the world is more complicated than we all think, other issues are certainly in question. As I have mentioned, the improvement in relations with North Korea has almost certainly been orchestrated from Beijing. And the glitches are probably also being orchestrated from Beijing. That being said, young John Bolton should have known better than to raise the effigy of Moammar Qaddhafi in discussing his goal for North Korean denuclearization. Some people consider it to have been a bad move in the game. It felt more like a rookie mistake.

Anyway, the government of Xi Jinping sent a trade delegation to the United States. The seriousness of the task was signaled by the fact that the delegation was led by vice premier Liu He—considered to be Xi’s right hand man. This means that Xi took the negotiations very seriously and wanted to show respect to America.

All leftist commentators have pronounced the talks a catastrophe for the United States. The reason is that all leftist commentators pronounce everything that Donald Trump does to be a catastrophe. Being seriously rational thinkers they believe that Trump is the Devil Incarnate and thus, that everything he does must be wrong.

In the current story, from the New York Times, we read that the Chinese made no concessions on trade. More recent stories suggest that the Chinese have seriously lowered tariffs on automobile imports. The moral of the story: do not jump to conclusions before you know the whole story.

Anyway, the picture does not show the Chinese delegation meeting with Trump administration officials. It shows the Chinese delegation meeting with Congressional leaders, with the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee.
View image on Twitter

The picture has been widely disseminated in China, next to a picture of another negotiation between China and the West, the 1901 meeting that signed the Boxer protocol. It ended a Chinese insurgency against Western imperialistic influence in China.

In 1901 the Qing dynasty was dying and its leaders were old and evidently decrepit. The Western leaders were younger and more vigorous. In today’s picture the Chinese delegates seemed young and more vigorous, while the members of Ways and Means, led by a couple of octogenarians, seemed to be old and decrepit.

Chinese commentators believe that the pictures reverse that happened at the end of the Qin dynasty, when the West was the ascendant culture and China was declining. Now, they look at today’s picture and see China ascending and the West declining.

Evidently, they have a sense of history. And they are not wedded to the twenty-four hour news cycle.

The Times reports the story:

After Chinese delegates met with American lawmakers on Thursday, a photograph taken from one end of the table circulated on the popular Chinese social media service Weibo. It was shared alongside one from 1901, when representatives from China and colonial powers signed an accord to end the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against foreign influence in China.


“Over the past 100 years, American officials have gone from young to old, and Chinese officials have gone from old to young,” one Weibo user wrote. “This has a lot to do with the current state of the two countries. America today is just as closed off as China was 100 years ago.”

In what must surely count as a failed metaphor, the Times calls the symbolism “tantalizingly potent:”

The symbolism is tantalizingly potent. The 1901 accord is regarded in China as a national humiliation, particularly by the Communist Party, which seeks to present itself as having rescued the nation from a century of being pushed around by foreign powers.

One of the Qing court’s representatives in Beijing that day “was so feeble that he had to be lifted out of his chair by two men,” The New York Times reported at the time. The Qing dynasty — China’s last — collapsed not long after.

As the Times notes, the comparison is inexact. The American legislators were not our lead negotiators. And besides, the Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is actually older than the Chairman of Ways and Means, Kevin Brady.

Yet, it’s not about accuracy; it’s about perception. China sees a clash of civilizations, one in which it is winning and the West is losing.

It’s worthwhile noting that our leading international competitor does not see us as a very formidable adversary. They might be right or they might be wrong. We ought at least to reflect on the matter.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I'm sure Mr. Trump is considering this quite seriously (and out of sight of the NYT and WaPoo).