Chill over China

WHEN one considers that only 20 per cent of Americans possess a passport, I suppose it’s not so surprising. Many still have a weak grasp of geography and international affairs. Or that Washington’s missteps abroad are so frequent. In spite of the past half century of intensive involvement in global affairs, US foreign policy remains too often amateurish and crude.

By Eric S. Margolis

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Published: Sun 30 Apr 2006, 11:03 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 1:25 PM

The latest example was the visit to Washington by President Hu Jintao of China. Watching this event made me squirm in embarrassment over the Bush administration’s diplomatic ineptitude and outright rudeness.

Building and sustaining good relations with China is and will remain America’s most important foreign policy challenge for the next decade. Historically, the emergence of new powers that force change on the strategic status quo has always been a time of maximum danger and the primary generator of major wars.

Managing China’s arrival as the world’s second superpower will demand consummate diplomatic skills. The United States must devise ways of living with China’s economic competition, surging demand for resources, and inevitable growing geopolitical influence in Asia and the western Pacific while avoiding confrontation. Two highly nationalistic, muscular, and assertive great powers must somehow learn to co-exist.

President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington was a sobering lesson in how not to build a positive and fruitful relationship. First, it was not even a state visit, the type usually afforded heads of state. The visit was downgraded to an economy-class event known as an ‘official visit.’ This was a huge insult and major loss of face for President Hu and 1.2 billion Chinese people. I was surprised that Hu did not cancel the visit.

But it got worse. The White House did not even give an official dinner for Hu and his entourage, but a luncheon. This may sound trivial, but in the world of diplomacy —or business, for that matter —such an act is a clear sign of the status of the visitor. To give a mere lunch for the leader of the world’s most populous nation that holds close to $200 billion in US debt was a diplomatic outrage and a slap in the face.

Why was the Bush Administration so grossly disrespectful? First, to please its Christian fundamentalist core supporters, known as thoeocons, who are strongly anti-Chinese because of Beijing’s suppression of various Christian sects.

Second, because America’s East Asia policy is still being made by the same extremist neoconservatives who fabricated the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and are waging an anti-Muslim jihad from the White House, Pentagon and US media. They are bent on putting China and the US on a collision course, believing that US military power will be able to intimidate China and keep its influence penned up on the mainland. This is an extremely dangerous idea that could easily lead to a future Sino-American conflict.

President Hu, noted for a certain blandness and platitudinous speeches, showed no reaction to President Bush’s slight, not even when a Falun Gong protester disrupted the welcoming addresses. But deep down, the Chinese must have been furious by the bargain-basement reception and convinced that the protester’s interruption was sanctioned by the Americans. Nor did Hu show any outward reaction to Bush’s lectures on human rights. China’s record in this regard is terrible, but public hectoring is not the way to motivate the proud, prickly Chinese to change their ways. Anyway, President Bush should be the last person to criticise other nations over human rights abuses after revelations of the horrors of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s secret torture camps.

When confronted by US demands that China force North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons, Hu might have fired back by demanding the US force Israel to get rid of its huge nuclear arsenal, thereby halting a Middle East arms race. Or Hu could have told Americans who scolded him about the artificially low exchange rate of China’s yuan to deal with their own reckless credit binge and gargantuan deficits first. As for Washington’s complaints that China was being too aggressive in seeking oil and other resources around the world, Hu might have reminded his hosts that America consumes three times more energy than China, and invaded Iraq, among other reasons, to grab more oil.

Regarding US claims that China is spending too much on its military, Hu could have noted that US defence spending amounts to 50 per cent of the world’s total military spending. But Hu was too polite, and kept smiling without relent in spite of losing a great deal of face in Asian eyes. He and his entourage must have returned to China with the feeling that the US was still determined to dominate rather than cooperate, and that China had better keep building up its military power.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist and contributing foreign editor of the Toronto Sun. He can be reached at

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