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Time for China to go on the offensive?

I’ve noticed repeatedly that when western reporters interview Chinese diplomats or politicians they almost always take an apologetic tone and talk about criticisms as if they were outright true and ought not be questioned. Most of us know that many of these criticisms are either not accurate or given not out of a spirit of true dialogue and constructive, friendly criticism but out of more nefarious motives.

Take the issue of human rights. The latest example is Xi at the State Department. At his speech, Xi talked about the criticisms of alleged human rights violations from his “old friends” in the US. He was quick to mention that China has improved drastically in human rights during the last 30 years.

That much is true. But in talking about improvement, he may not be getting the right message across. It may seem to an American audience that that is admission of the accuracy of much human rights criticisms of China. It may convey to the audience not a message of how far China has improved but how backwards it once was and how far it needs to go. Xi and his colleagues may not even realize this is the message they are unwittingly communicating.

The human rights issue of course, is just one example. I see in general an apologetic and diffident tone in treating criticisms from the west. But there is no evidence that such tone has currency, is persuasive among the western audience. Diffidence and meekness is often taken as a sign of guilt or duplicity rather than a sign of respect for an alternative perspective (which I believe is the intention of Chinese diplomats). Those who do have legitimate perspectives are often expected to defend their position with some passion and vehemence in the west.

That is how I personally like to do things. But I also understand that in Chinese culture where one is expected not to be dogmatic and adversarial but to argue one’s case in a spirit of cooperation at arriving at the truth, tones that convey antagonism may be seen as the opposite, that is, as expressing hubris and compensating for deficiencies of evidence with vehemence.

So there is this cultural divide. But I think that when speaking to a western and especially American audience, it may be more fruitful for Chinese diplomats to adopt a more aggressive tone, to go on the offensive. As odd as that may sound to many Chinese, that may achieve more in convincing them than a more respectful tone that is on the defensive.

So instead of tacitly acknowledging as legitimate many illegitimate criticisms against China, perhaps a better strategy is to go on the offensive. When asked about human rights abuses, Chinese diplomats may answer something like, “Yes, we are deeply concerned about human rights and are looking for ways to improve. But we also consider the invasion of Iraq to be a fundamental human rights infringement on the Iraqi people. We consider the deaths of 1.4 million Iraqis and tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan from unjust wars to be grave human rights abuses. We consider the destruction of their country to be human rights abuses and the fact that tens of thousands of people die in the US every year because they do not have health care to be human rights abuses and the fact that the US has imprisoned more people than any nation in the world, many of whom minorities, sent to long prison terms for nonviolent crimes, to be massive human rights violations. We consider torturing, imprisoning and assassinating people without legal due process to be massive human rights violations. We hope to speak to you on all these issues in a spirit of dialogue instead of a lecture from one side at the other. Only in such multilateral communication based on equality can we learn from each other and improve human rights for the whole world.”

This provides the context to China’s actions by making analogies between China and other countries. As for the allegations which are straightforwardly false or misleading (such as many of the ones concerning Tibet), it may be more effective to not let the allegations lay in silence but to directly confront them with refutation. Holding one’s tongue is often construed as a sign of tacit admission of guilt in the west and direct responses are seen as evidence of sincerity.

Often the perpetrators of crimes are not even aware of their own complicity in the crime. It is rare that they can come to realize their own crimes without outside perspectives. China has been listening to the other side for decades through constant, self-righteous, arrogant lectures and hectoring (often using false accusations to do so). It’s time for the west to accept an outside voice regarding its own behavior. In this way, not only will Americans see that their own country perpetrates many of the crimes they allege at others and question the immoral actions of their own country but come to see that many of the criticisms they level at others may need to be questioned as well.

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  1. jxie
    February 16th, 2012 at 20:14 | #1

    The reasons? 1. The game in China is Go, not chess. 2. China has a long history. The point 1 has been elaborated by many others. Basically the mindset of Go is totally different. If you look at two powerful Chinese dynasties, Han and Tang, both were founded by those who didn’t take the offensive stands until very late and very ready. Liu Bang, the founding emperor of Han, for a long time, conceded inferior to Xiang Yu while building strength. After Li Yuan (or actually mostly his son), the founding emperor of Tang, took over the Sui capital Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an), he merely claimed Prime Minister and kept a puppet Sui emperor — while in the meantime waiting for other powers to duke it out with each other.

    If you take an antagonistic stand now, get your messages out, what will be the reactions you expect? This is not like in a zen session, you hit the stick at the head of someone with a closed mind (棒喝). The mind will still be closed after you make your points. Then what?

    Speaking of the history, was watching Charlie Rose’s interview of Robert Kagan. Kagan formed this theory that every 40 years in history the US suffers a dip, and eventually bounces back stronger than ever. First the years don’t quite match — the 1890s crash was deep but very short-lived; the dips in the 1930s and 1970s lasted much longer; moreover the current dip arguably started in 2000, certainly not 2010. Second, the current trend is every year, the US adds to its debts, at an amount close to its total federal tax base (not including the SS tax). Last but not least, wow, only 120 years or so of reference…

  2. February 16th, 2012 at 22:31 | #2

    @jxie

    I actually sympathize with melektaus to some extent. I don’t think melektaus is advocating taking a more aggressive stance toward the West – to assert more forcefully Chinese interests. He is only advocating that in trying to reduce Western misunderstanding of China, it is not sufficient to take a passive role – saying harmonious things and focusing on win-win. Sometimes, it is important to point out the other’s blindness rather than perpetuating the blindness, hoping it will go away, in the name of being courteous and harmonious.

    While I do sympathize, I also agree with you. What’s the point? When someone is close-minded, pointing that out will not make any difference – except perhaps generate more ill-will.

    I guess for the Chinese gov’t, they can do whatever they’ve been doing. But for Chinese bloggers, writers, academics, etc. – for conscientious Westerners – they really need to step up and be more aggressive in countering these collective defamation.

    The lesson of WWII is not democracy, or human rights – those don’t really mean much anyways (just look at American foreign policy and the acts Israel has perpetrated in the name of preserving the Jewish homeland). The core is to be empathetic to fellow human beings – to never collectively defame fellow human beings.

  3. February 16th, 2012 at 22:39 | #3

    The State Department luncheon speech was a perfect opportunity for Xi to state the gross violations of human rights by the United States, and many Americans would agree with it. That would have been a perfect venue to counter the litany of criticisms Biden had just laid against China.

    Been wondering myself if Xi didn’t bring up U.S. abuses on purpose or he didn’t expect Biden to go on the offensive and therefore unprepared.

  4. February 17th, 2012 at 00:01 | #4

    @Allen
    I agree with your point. Currently there are so many within America who are close-minded. In their minds, China is the numero uno bad guy in the global sphere, due in no small part to a still ongoing cold-war mentality (perpetrated in no small part by their media). It doesn’t help that China has quite a record of resisting America’s interests militarily (see Korean and Vietnam wars). A vice-president from China lecturing them on their own country’s systematic abuses of human rights isn’t going to win friends from this group of people. They would most probably fall back on cheap and common rhetoric such as “But China is a human-rights abuser too. Two wrongs don’t make a right,” or even “The US may have some human rights abuses. But they’re nothing compared to China,” forgetting that it is only America who is styling herself to be a “white knight”, a world policeman and a champion of freedom and democracy, and that she has not been successful in meeting up to this self-created image in the eyes of many countries. But I digress. It is important to note that there are still many who are intelligent and clear-minded in America, who can see past the hypocrisy and lies, and who are fair and balanced in their stances towards China. Unfortunately, even they cannot sway the opinion of the group who is close-minded. What we can do is to actively seek out members of the fair and balanced group and bring their opinions to the light, while bringing China’s perspective to countries with no/little historical interaction with her in the past (like those in South America and Africa). We can also build a deeper understanding with countries who are already close to China (like Pakistan and some Southeast Asian countries).

  5. zack
    February 17th, 2012 at 00:24 | #5

    @YinYang
    xi’s own position as VP and mission to the US was to convey goodwill; whilst i agree that the President of China ought to speak up for China, it wasn’t the case for the VP of China. Simply speaking out would’ve given the western presses ammunition for their China Threat propaganda. No, better to smile and make nicey, whilst turning the screws on the Obama administration. If obama wants to play good cop bad cop with Biden in league, let them dig themselves deeper into that hole.

    As President, Xi might decide that his position within the Party apparatus is secure enough to “rock the boat” so to speak; after all look at Hu’s admin. Hu didn’t really deviate much from Jiang’s policies until his position within the politburo was secure. This could well be the case for Xi.

  6. LOLZ
    February 17th, 2012 at 06:50 | #6

    I am not sure how engaging in US bashing would allow Chinese leaders off the hook from Western reporters. Most likely the reporters will politicize the whole thing and make everything worse. It also conflicts from the whole reason why Xi is in the US, to improve relations.

  7. pug_ster
    February 17th, 2012 at 12:44 | #7

    @LOLZ

    I agree. Every time some idiot from Team Obama try to lecture China on how to run China, it makes them look bad. If Xi Jinping decides to lecture US on human rights, itis counterproductive anyways, not because he is right, but because US won’t listen anyways and pisses off the US politicians.

  8. February 17th, 2012 at 13:16 | #8

    @LOLZ

    It’s not bashing if it’s legitimate criticisms unlike most of the criticisms directed at China which is indeed bashing.

  9. February 17th, 2012 at 13:17 | #9

    @pug_ster

    No, actually, the rhetoric is believed by the majority of the western public. Look at the polls to see that the anti-China rhetoric works. It makes China look bad, not those who spew it.

  10. February 17th, 2012 at 13:21 | #10

    @jxie

    I’m not sure what that has to do with the topic but my point is that Xi and other Chinese diplomats don’t understand western culture and this lack of understanding causes unintended effects in how they communicate. Their message may be conveyed more effectively by other more direct and more aggressive tones and stances. A sheep may do well in a society of knights but only a lion can thrive among knaves.

  11. February 17th, 2012 at 13:28 | #11

    zack :
    @YinYang
    xi’s own position as VP and mission to the US was to convey goodwill; whilst i agree that the President of China ought to speak up for China, it wasn’t the case for the VP of China. Simply speaking out would’ve given the western presses ammunition for their China Threat propaganda.

    Here’s the flaw I see in this kind of reasoning. The west already uses the China threat. So we know that the current strategy of diffidence, silence, and even adopting an apologetic tone induces the China threat propaganda. That’s because of the cultural differences. Westerners often see that as admission of guilt or even duplicity and hence a threat. That’s the ammunition used in anti-China propaganda, not a direct and more aggressive tone.

    If you look at the traditional image of China as a threat, you see that kind of image of Chinese people as silent, sneaky. being diffident and silent will simply add to that image and provide further fuel for the propagandists to establish the China threat idea.

  12. jxie
    February 17th, 2012 at 16:51 | #12

    @melektaus

    Will you like this retort better?

    “With all due respect, [Mr. President]/[Mr. Vice President], since we are here in the US and I happen to believe the human rights condition in the US is far worse than China, we should address them far more urgently for the sake of humanity.

    1. Domestically… High incarceration rate — [pounding the stats, general public 6 times more likely be in jail than in China, black men 50 times more likely….] While we are on the subject, how about the hundreds if not thousands of homosexual rapes happening every day in the American prison system? [Mr. President]/[Mr. Vice President], [Use his exact words a moment ago but shift to this travesty]. Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow a moment of silence to remember their plights. May heaven allow those suffering souls to be strong today.

    2. Internationally — Abu Ghraib, extralegal renditions, the Gitmo Concentration Camp, [fully quote the highest Iraqi death number out there, which works out to near 6% of the 2003 Iraqi population — emphasize that it’s near twice as much as the deaths suffered by nations participating the WW2.]”

    I skipped a step or two in my earlier comment. If the Chinese history is any guide, those with humility, respect and reservation tend to be treated more kindly than those hubristic ones eventually.

  13. February 17th, 2012 at 18:29 | #13

    How about this retort:

    My friend, Mr. Biden, I accept some of your criticisms about human rights in China. We all yearn to better ourselves. But since you brought up this topic, I should remind you the death and destruction your country caused in Iraq and Afghanistan – just to mention a few. You have horse shoe prints all over you, because that high horse got tired of you riding it.

    Turns and look at Biden deliberately. Smile. Then continue his speech. That would get the whole world talking.

  14. February 17th, 2012 at 20:42 | #14

    Any speech writers here?

    We can have a post of what Xi should have spoken – Biden style – listing a list of grievances.

    We can have another post of how Xi should have responded to each of Biden’s attacks.

    Just for fun…

    Maybe I’ll do it if no one takes up on the offer.

  15. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 11:13 | #15

    Offensive?

    with what?

    until moral and material superiority is clearly established at home. china will not have the strength to go on any offensive.

    @Allen,

    I want to but have no time. you can try frirst.

  16. February 18th, 2012 at 18:09 | #16

    @jxie

    That would be great if Xi made that statement publicly at the White House. it would get him some major points not only among the Chinese and other people around the world but I suspect many Americans would agree.

    I skipped a step or two in my earlier comment. If the Chinese history is any guide, those with humility, respect and reservation tend to be treated more kindly than those hubristic ones eventually.

    You are confusing Chinese history with US history. What works in China may not work in the US. If American history, especially recent American history is any guide, a more assertive, direct and offensive attitude will get you far more than a meek, defensive and apologetic tone.

  17. February 18th, 2012 at 18:11 | #17

    @silentchinese

    With what you use to fight any fascist: facts.

  18. February 18th, 2012 at 18:12 | #18

    @Allen

    That would be a cool exercise.

    We ought to be speech writers for the Chinese…

  19. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 19:04 | #19

    melektaus :
    @silentchinese
    With what you use to fight any fascist: facts.

    If I remember the history of WW2 correctly.

    It was the blood sweat and steel of soviet union’s red army that dealt the death blow to fascist germany.

    not “facts”.

  20. February 18th, 2012 at 19:08 | #20

    @silentchinese

    If it weren’t for facts no one would have gone to Germany to fight the Nazis in the first place. Instead, people would be sitting around and wondering

    “Offensive?
    with what?”

  21. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 19:19 | #21

    melektaus :
    @silentchinese
    If it weren’t for facts no one would have gone to Germany to fight the Nazis in the first place. Instead, people would be sitting around and wondering
    “Offensive?
    with what?”

    great.

    you can argue with facts all day.

    the fact is the fundamental force that will alter the equation, 10 -15 years down the line,
    will be the reality that china has a bigger economy than that of the pre-eminent power on this face of this earth. and that has never happened in human history before.

    I personally would like to argue with facts with real strength of example.

    the masses are mindless. people are stupid, and only can see bit and pieces of reality heavily influenced by their own personal experiences.

    most of the people in this world can not see 1 year down the line or are easily persuaded by emotive arguments instead of facts.

    If opposite would true then there would not be any need for any advertising for products or political candidates slinging mud at their opponents on TV.

  22. February 18th, 2012 at 19:24 | #22

    @silentchinese

    I’m not saying it starts and ends with facts, I’m just saying you gotta involve them at some point and not keep meek, silent, and apologetic. That never works in the US.

  23. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 19:26 | #23

    melektaus :
    @silentchinese
    I’m not saying it starts and ends with facts, I’m just saying you gotta involve them at some point and not keep meek, silent, and apologetic. That never works in the US.

    Not being silent =/= overload with facts.

    Most of people are not interested in facts.

  24. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 19:28 | #24

    Let me put it this way.

    Instead of overloading facts after facts (which would only work with a certain small percentage of population.. the intellectually disciplined)

    one should try to construct an emotive argument to put-forth your view.

  25. February 18th, 2012 at 19:33 | #25

    @silentchinese

    Who said anything about “overloading” with facts? Like Einstein said, it should be simple but not too simple. How else would you expect the American people to realize anything if you remain silent and meek? There’s a balance.

  26. silentchinese
    February 18th, 2012 at 20:04 | #26

    Not remain silent and meek =/= being effective.

    I am an utilitarian, an realistic idealist. I have to deal imperfection that is called human day in and day out and that includes yours truly.

    If I were to waste breath, I want results.

  27. February 18th, 2012 at 20:14 | #27

    No body is saying that that is the sufficient condition. just that being more assertive and not remaining unchallenged it is more effective than silence and meekness. That is what the Chinese leaders and diplomats have tried before. Do you see a reduction in anti-Chinese rhetoric recently based on that strategy? No, it doesn’t seem to be working. Are the “results” of silence effective? Obviously not. Only a really stupid utilitarian would keep using tactics that makes things actually worse.

  28. February 18th, 2012 at 23:13 | #28

    Actually, there is a heated debate within China on how much longer she should remain docile. Many in China are stating the recent veto at the U.N. with Russia on the Syria issue is China beginning to experiment having foreign policy more directly reflecting her views. China through her history has only vetoed like 8 times or something.

    China is a nation made of people. There will be those who are more hawkish and those more dovish. As China gains strength, human nature dictates her not being as meek as before in light of so much Western propaganda against her. In our recent interview with Shaun Rein, this is one area he feared in the coming years. That the West in general has been much more unfair towards China than the other way around. He feared China not willing to take it anymore and will be much more outspoken. That with the continuing trend in the West to link every little problem within China’s border to an ‘evil’ Chinese government.

  29. zack
    February 19th, 2012 at 03:56 | #29

    China, or rather the Chinese ppl have retaliated against Western propaganda offensives against China; take the 2008 olympics for instance. Rather than allowing the West to ruin their own olympics, the Chinese ppl rallied around the flag and the torch and the plans from Western strategists to divide and crack China backfired on them when the Chinese ppl rallied behind the CCP and expressed their support for it. Later, those same propaganda outlets such as The Economist would write about ‘the disturbing trend of Chinese nationalism on the rise’ and hinting at all sort of Showa Japan style wars to come. I should also note that the Chinese retaliated against the likes of Sarkozy by boycotting Carrefour.

    and THAT would go a long way to expressing Chinese disgust at the operations of Western governments at subverting China’s trajectory. Mass boycotts of US or WEstern firms that have expressed or acted in ways that have been against China’s interests eg Boeing selling fighters to Taiwan? Chinese firms ought to boycott or void Boeing contracts, hollywood actors/producers ranting on about the dalai lama and tibet and how evil China is? boycott their work and films, download those movies, dont pay a fucken cent to them. Heck, DDoS their corporate computers if you want to get real nasty.

    Retaliation is nothing new, and it is only fit. The most important thing is to be the Final Retaliator.

  30. silentchinese
    February 19th, 2012 at 14:54 | #30

    Actually the current course of action is pretty beneficial for china.

    If china were to hold the current course, 15 years later, China will have the biggest military budget on this planet. along with the biggest economy. with out breaking a sweat.

  31. February 19th, 2012 at 16:49 | #31

    @YinYang

    I really hope China will remain peaceful and use diplomacy and negotiation with all its relations and encoruage others to do so as well. China has done this well and it’s been effective for China’s growth to not engage militarily as much as possible. I only wish to focus on words, not military actions. Paradoxically, often aggressive words can bring more peace than less aggressive words. I believe this is especially true when you are dealing with aggressive nations. Bullies can only understand certain tones. Other milder tones often fall outside of their ears.

  32. zack
    February 19th, 2012 at 21:38 | #32

    @silentchinese
    but within those 15 years, the USG will be doing everything they can-and i mean everything- to delay or even bring about China’s collapse. It’s probably the worst kept secret that Washington would love nothing better than to turn back the clock and have China the weak and isolationist country that it was before the 90s. That’s why it’s such a shock to most Westerners that China’s rise has been so apparent-this after decades of Western propaganda consoling them that China ‘would collapse any moment now’.

    take the south china sea crises for eg, the USG is actively attempting to destabilise the area by encouraging little countries like the philipines and vietnam to become aggressive and belligerent with hopes that a destabilised neighbourhood would delay the coming rise of China. Now how is China supposed to respond to that-as well as the US base in Darwin? The only option left to any government is to respond via escalation ie investing more in arms and naval platforms to improve bargaining position and thence and increase in tensions in the SCS. In the meantime, increased tensions translates into massive markets for US armament manufacturers and profit. the USA benefits and prospers from war-it is, as Russia’s PM Putin termed-a ‘parasite’ on the world economy.

    and whose to say, some bright spark in the CIA or the White House reckons it’ll benefit the US to go ahead and go covert war within China’s borders, if they feel China’s rise threatens the US’s idea of hegemony and therefore its very existence?? too many americans have equated America’s sole superpower status to its national survival. To such Americans, for America to lose that title would be tantamount to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire.

  33. zack
    February 19th, 2012 at 21:43 | #33

    btw, when i say the USG ‘will be doing everything they can to bring about China’s collapse’, i’m not jsut referring to war and civil revolution; i’m also referring to US operations at subverting China via implanting their own ‘manchurian candidates’ into Beijing, US covert attempts to influence Chinese policy by brainwashing the Chinese ppl as former presidential candidate Huntsman so blatantly said, or via hollywood subliminal messages (you know what i’m talking about, where the hero is always white and american and asian men are weak and effeminate sidekicks at best) or co-opting Chinese bloggers/academics to sing their praises of Western liberal democracies/Washington consensus ahem Liu Xiaobo, or minxin pei

  34. zack
    February 19th, 2012 at 21:47 | #34

    the only way the US will be happy with “China’s rise” is if it’s in the context of their idea of the “G2”. An unequal partnership where China acts as vassal to the US in the manner of thailand, south korea and japan. Where Chinese continue to beggar themselves in order to subsidise the American dream, where Chinese are sent to fight and die for US imperialistic causes, where Chinese endanger themselves for the benefit of their US masters, where Chinese spread their legs and open their markets for the penetration of American corporate interests.

    Therefore, in order for China to develop in peace without the US continually attempting to subvert and destabilise it, Beijing must set about weakening the US led world order either via diluting the petrodollar system or demonstrating its own superiority in governance, technology and economics.

  35. February 20th, 2012 at 15:08 | #35

    @silentchinese

    The question isn’t Is the “current course” “beneficial” to China? The question is “Can it get improve? Can there be better understanding? If so how best to achieve that?”

    If you think that it can’t improve and everything should just remain as it is, then you seem to be at odds with the purpose of this blog and most of the people on it. Because the whole point of this blog is to improve understanding through correcting misconceptions about China by expressing views not usually seen in the media. In other words, it is to speak up and not remain silent. Not only China’s interests depend on better understanding but the welfare and security of the whole world depends on it. Anyone that doesn’t want to improve that ought to open their eyes to history and see that the history has not been the best in regards to China-US relations and there’s great room for improvement.

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