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China trying 'practical' diplomacy
Paul Lin
9/20/2002

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With US President George W. Bush about to visit China, US-China relations have again become a focal point.

What concerns the US most is why Chinese youth harbor such vehement anti-US sentiment.

Following NATO's accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May, 1999, the collision between a US EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 jet over the South China Sea in April last year and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the US -- an irrational nationalistic sentiment appeared among Chinese youth.

This is reflected in a survey published on Jan. 26 in the China Youth Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League.

The survey, which involved interviews of 100 university students in Beijing, Luoyang and Fuzhou between the months of April and July of last year, showed that the students have conflicting impressions of the US.

On the one hand, they think of the US as "hegemonist," while on the other hand they admire the US for being "advanced." Though filled with "disgust" for Washington, they nonetheless felt a longing to be in the US.

The first question asked of the students was: "When the topic of the US comes up, what's the first thing that comes to mind?"

Answers often included wording like "hegemony" and "global policeman."

One student said: "The US has to have a hand in every international matter," going on to say that when he studied history in elementary school, he had a vague impression of the US as a symbol of evil power. As the student got older, his negative impression was reinforced by what as he saw the US' regular interference in Chinese affairs in areas such as human rights, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The majority of the students surveyed felt a general sense of anger at the US for "meddling in others' business."

When questioned about why they oppose the US' way of doing things, the students were largely unable to articulate their reasons beyond citing a general feeling of anger.

Once these negative feelings abated, however, the students' desire to visit the US, as well as their impression of the US as an advanced, developed and free country reappeared. In addition, the interviews reveal that domestic broadcasts and newspapers are the students' main information channels.

From this survey, the following is obvious: First, anti-US sentiment is instilled in China from a young age. Second, youth receive their information via the communist media -- especially media under the direct control of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Third, anti-US sentiment among these youth is mainly emotionally driven. Once they cool down they are no longer "anti-US." If the US wants to find the ringleaders behind efforts to damage US-China relations, it need look no further than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Jiang.

After the Cultural Revolution, the US and China experienced a honeymoon. Of the three joint communiques frequently cited by Beijing, two were signed during this time, with the US making numerous compromises in the process.

US-China relations suffered following the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, at which time Beijing wantonly stirred up anti-US sentiment in order to maintain internal unity.

By this time, Jiang had gradually consolidated his position. Many were surprised when former US president Bill Clinton, upon leaving the presidency, said that Jiang was the world's "most charismatic leader."

Jiang's pro-US facade caused some in the US to mistakenly believe that he was actually "pro-US." More recently, New York Times Beijing correspondent Nicholas Kristof wrote that Jiang was the US' "man in Beijing."

This is a huge and scary misperception, held by those who have been duped by Jiang's facade.

One must not think that Jiang is pro-US just because he can recite excerpts from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, sing a few American folk songs or lick Bush's boots with statements like: "From his [Bush's] voice [on the phone] I could feel that he is a president I can do business with." Instead, we need to look at Jiang's policies since he took power.

After the Tiananmen massacre, in light of China's troublesome isolation, Deng Xiaoping proposed that China should keep a low profile in its foreign relations. Deng felt that China should increase mutual trust, reduce
tension and develop cooperation with the US. But Jiang Zemin used his position as CCP secretary general and chairman of the Central Military Commission to promote a line centered around "anti-peaceful evolution."

Later, on numerous occasions, Jiang raised the call to "oppose discord-sowing and Westernization," directing his attack at the US.

In 1993, after Jiang assumed the post of PRC president and Deng Xiaoping fell seriously ill, Jiang changed to promoting superpower diplomacy, proposing his theory of multilateralism in order to oppose the US.

To develop China's military power and further threaten the US, Jiang also bought large quantities of arms from Russia. Beginning in 1995, China frequently conducted military exercises, particularly in the Taiwan Strait,
firing missiles into Taiwan's waters.

One high-ranking military officer even threatened to launch nuclear weapons in the direction of Los Angeles.

In addition, Jiang passionately constructed an anti-US "united front," got cozy with rogue nations and even passed on advanced nuclear weapons and technology to them -- sowing discord in the world and creating trouble for
the US.

Along with Russia and Central Asian countries, Jiang also established the "Shanghai Six," as a means to counter NATO.

During the EP-3 incident, Jiang sternly criticized Bush as "illogical, disorganized, and extremely unwise."

The purpose of appearing to be "pro-US," is only because Jiang hankers after the annual trade surplus with the US, worth tens of billions of dollars. Jiang wants the surplus in order to bring social stability, satisfy the extremely luxuriant lifestyles of the CCP special interest groups -- and steal advanced technology from the US.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, anti-US sentiment in China's grassroots was cooled by the authorities. Beijing's facade of cooperation with the US war against terrorism caused a warming and normalization of US-China ties.

This indicated a change in the CCP's US policy, as well as an easing of China's policy of propaganda and military threats toward Taiwan. These recent moves are all thought to be signs that Beijing is changing to "practical" diplomacy. What kinds of factors spurred this change? It's too early to say whether it is related to the growing influence of Hu Jintao's succession -- and especially his involvement in China-US relations.

*Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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