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Hu is on first; the US grounds out


The White House and US Administration were unwitting props in a 'made for Chinese media' production of President Hu Jintao's "official" or "state" visit, depending on which side of the Pacific you reside. While the edited tapes will reflect that success in China (and elsewhere in Asia if broadcast from Chinese sources), Hu and the Chinese elite received what they perceived as a stinging series of insults that I think rival the anger that swept elite and populace alike over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the loss of a Chinese F-8 pilot and aircraft in the midair collision with a US Elint aircraft. Chinese will access around the Great Firewall will also learn of the slights, albeit more slowly.

We in the west have virtually no idea of the residue of anger and distrust that those events created and which successive events have not mollified. The accumulated US blunders, real, accidental and coincidental, of the Hu visit will have cemented in the minds of the Chinese elite that the current administration is disrespectful of China and what the Chinese see as their legitimate interests, and may be as anti-Chinese as it was at the beginning of the Bush43 administration.

A review of US press revealed a middle ground of analysis (also here). Of the "Doris Day" airbrushed versions, China Daily's rendering of Hu's visit was typical of what ordinary Chinese without means to pierce the Great Firewall will see. It achieves the state visit aura that Hu and the CCP were seeking. The reality and the impact upon Chinese elites is vastly different and I think will drive Chinese interpretations of US actions for the foreseeable future.

Of the blunt reality versions, the Czech press said what the US press would not. The front page headline of Czechoslovakia's largest circulating paper, "Mlada Fronta Dnes" put pictures of the Bush43-Hu debacle under the headline, "Americans Make Fools of Themselves in Front of the Chinese President."

To draw out the impact to the Chinese of keeping or losing face as well as the meaning of words or deeds that take on a much greater stature in Chinese minds than in Americans, I will comment briefly on Hu the individual, the great lengths to which the Chinese attempted to design the visit so as to maximize face, and then the example of the negotiations over the 2001 aerial collision near Hainan Island.

Both Hu and China's current circumstances are at variance to recent history:

[In] Hu , China has its least cosmopolitan leader since Mao. Deng Xiaoping lived in Paris as a young man, and was smitten there with an exotic Western ideology - communism.

Jiang Zemin, his successor, trained in the Soviet Union, and speaks Russian, as well as halting English. He retained a lively curiosity toward the broader world, reciting snippets of the "Gettysburg Address" to regale foreign audiences.

Hu has never lived outside of China, and indeed has spent much of his career working his way up the party hierarchy in poor and conservative backwaters, places like Tibet and Guizhou Province, where even foreign modes so eagerly embraced by China as market capitalism have arrived both late and weak.

Hu has spoken pointedly in rejection of the Western idea of liberalism, and has worked quietly but with remarkable effectiveness at reconfiguring China's foreign relations in ways that dilute what was only recently the overwhelmingly preponderant influence of the United States...

"The United States used to be the center of [China's] foreign policy... Now China is playing chess in all directions, in a way that counts Europe, Asia, Russia and others. That is Hu Jintao's foreign policy."

I do not think it unkind to describe Hu as a superb CCP party apparatchik that is seeking to cement his legitimacy by gaining peer great nation - and great leader - status from the US visit that could be reflected back to China. Moreover, Hu is attempting to secure control in a period of "unprecedented controversy and dissent" among the Chinese elite, some of whom have fallen prey to oligarchy even as the poor slip towards populism:

The Chinese are obsessed with face - 80 percent of all pre-trip negotiations between Washington and Beijing were about protocol and not substance - said John Tkacik, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation…

Michael Green noted that "China's domestic political context looms large in Hu's mind, [that] Hu would like to "come out of this meeting with all of the pomp and circumstance and protocol a Chinese leader needs to convey to his public when he travels abroad." "It'll look good on TV in Guangzhou and Sichuan"…

China had to bridge Hu's advertised "state visit" with the "official visit" on offer from the US; the South Lawn red carpet and 21-gun salute substituting for the denied state dinner. Hu had no interest in satisfying Bush43's preference for informal entertainment at his Texas ranch. Texas would not offer Hu the telegenic qualities required for Chinese television as well as presenting Hu, as events in DC ultimately bore out, with far more in-depth conversation time than the Chinese desired.

Before delving into my list of slights the White House offered to Hu, we need context for the importance that the Chinese attach to words and symbols such as that offered by Nicholas Berry, then at CDI. (This brief note, Seven Thoughts from Beijing, is reproduced in full as CDI confirms that it is no longer available on the web.):

The following conclusions are drawn from four days in Beijing commencing immediately after the EP-3 collision with a Chinese fighter plane, after 2 1/2 hours of talks with a dozen members of the China Reform Forum (an association of foreign policy analysts and officials who advise the Communist Party), watching and reading the media, and a conversation with a Burmese businessman who supervises Chinese workers.
1. Chinese officials and the general population are universally angry at the United States. The first reports here from Washington portrayed Bush as loudly demanding the release of the plane and crew. There was no mention of American concern for the fate of the Chinese pilot, no request for a joint investigation, and no statement of American remorse for the accident -- only arrogance, or so it seemed to the Chinese.
2. The United States, not China, broke international law according to the Chinese. The EP-3 was not engaged in innocent passage and violated Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity by landing without permission on Hainan.
3. The refrain: "Why, if the U.S. is friendly towards China, do you spy on us?" was raised more than once. Although naive, this view portrays the United States as regarding China as an enemy.
4. The demand for an apology was universal. In Chinese culture an apology is considered good form, a way to clear the air to begin again, and is fully and routinely expected when harm is done. The Chinese found it strange that the word "apologize" is rarely used in American culture and diplomacy (because it is seen to signify subordination and unworthiness).
The Chinese are as ignorant of American culture as, apparently, is the White House.
5. No one could or would answer the question: "What if Bush does not apologize; what does the Chinese government do then?" Shifting subjects a bit, all expressed the hope that there would be a quiet, peaceful resolution of the dispute. Too much is at stake, they said, to transform the dispute into a conflict.
6. The Chinese government from the beginning made it clear that it did not want public protests. One began near the U.S. embassy, but the protesters were bused off and their signs confiscated. The protest shutdown was shown on TV. The public got the message.
7. The Bush foreign policy team is seen as having one foot still planted in the Cold War. Chinese officials, who remember fondly the Bush family ("They rode around Beijing on bicycles"), are disappointed with George W.

The lost pilot, Wang Wei, is now a state hero. The second pilot, Zhao Yu, was refused permission to shoot down the EP-3 by Chinese ground control. We were that close to an act of war. (Zhao also claimed that the EP-3 "veered abruptly, the propeller on its left wing smashing into Wang's plane" whereas the EP-3 Aeries was actually "in straight and level flight on autopilot at the time." Wang "apparently misjudged the intercept [on his third and closer pass] and his vertical stabilizer struck the outboard left propeller." All this fed into the demands on both sides for the other to retract and take sole responsibility.)

The article that followed Berry's in the Weekly Defense Monitor, The EP-3E Standoff Ends. Now What? continues the linguistic and symbolic battle and is fortunately mirrored on the web:

Wednesday China announced that it would release the 24 Americans whose plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island after colliding with a Chinese F-8 fighter in international airspace. The exact timing of the release depends on completion of "appropriate travel procedures." Nothing in the Chinese announcement made any reference to when, if ever, the EP-3E will be returned as demanded by President Bush the day after the accident occurred.

Most attention during the 11-day standoff centered on parsing Chinese and English words that would satisfy both sides. The Chinese wanted a formal apology, linguistically implying U.S. responsibility for the accident that could be stretched to include wrong doing in conducting regular surveillance flights off the Chinese coast. The Bush Administration expressed "regret" (sorrow or remorse) for the accident, said it was "very sorry" (sympathetic) both for the loss (Chinese pilot and his aircraft) suffered by the Chinese people and the pilot's family and for the EP-3E's "entering of China's airspace and the landing" when the plane "did not have verbal clearance."

If the very public diplomatic wrestling was strenuous, the behind-the-scenes linguistic ballet that could define the situation and resolve the matter was delicate. It was an exercise reminiscent of a western philosophical school of the medieval period which said that one must name something before its attributes could be defined. In this case, "naming" a statement an apology rather than a regret defines a host of different realities -- international legal, moral, and potentially financial. Finding the right words thus was also a philosophical challenge.

One lesson that Americans -- especially politicians, policy makers, and opinion molders -- should draw from this episode is that words can matter as much as deeds. This is especially true in dealing with non-Western cultures whose philosophies and languages can be extremely precise. For example, in general English usage, one could interchange the words "competitor" and "opponent" without committing linguistic murder. Yet when applied to a specific case in the international arena, the nuances are as real as those between sorrow, regret, and apology.

In this regard, a very significant danger lies ahead after the EP-3E crew is safely back from their detainment. Those who see China as a strategic opponent bent on driving American influence from East Asia -- which goes far beyond Mr. Bush's characterization of China as a strategic competitor -- will declare that Chinese demands for an apology were part of Beijing's long-term plan to diminish if not eliminate America's position and prestige. They may even try to justify punitive actions against Beijing before the start (April 18) of meetings to discuss the cause of the accident and to define parameters that will reduce the chances of similar situations in the future. (A 1998 U.S. Defense Department - People's Republic of China Ministry of Defense Accord provides for such meetings to discuss issues involving operations and safety of maritime and air forces in and over international waters.)…

The most dangerous period ahead is the period between the return of the American crew and the April 18 start of the discussions to determine the facts of the accident. In this interim, intemperate rhetoric -- especially from either country's military -- that "names" a winner in the diplomatic standoff or faults the other side will only make the investigation more contentious. Such an outcome will serve no one's interests other than those who need to justify their paranoia by naming -- and thus creating -- a new "Evil Empire."

One wonders how we seem to have so quickly forgotten this lesson.

Part 2

Czech Take on Hu Visit
posted by Praguetwin
April 22, 2006

In Hu's Visit to the U.S., Small Gaffes May Overshadow Small Gains
Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters
Published: April 22, 2006

Hu Meets Bush, Discussing Trade, Taiwan, and Security
China Daily
April 21, 2006

Bush-Hu Meeting To Highlight Role That China Plays
Iran, North Korea at Top of the Agenda
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
April 20, 2006

April 19, 2006

Picking the right host
Liu Kin-ming
The Standard (China's Business Newspaper, HK)
April 18, 2006

At a Secret Meeting, Chinese Analysts Clashed Over Reforms
New York Times
April 7, 2006

Letter from Shanghai: Behind the U.S. decline of influence in China
Howard W. French
International Herald Tribune
MARCH 22, 2006

Rumsfeld sets new China tone
By Jing-dong Yuan
Asia Times
Oct 21, 2005

US: China has credible Taiwan attack options
By Stephen Blank
Asia Times
Mar 2, 2004

Three of a kind: India, China and Russia
By Sultan Shahin
Asia Times
Sep 27, 2003

China in transition: Is real change imminent?
by Bates Gill
Great Decisions

A new opportunity for Sino-US relations
By Jing-dong Yuan
Asia Times
February 13, 2002

U.S.-China Relations: Immediate Crisis Resolved, but Many Challenges Ahead
Bates Gill, Freeman Chair in China Studies, CSIS
Newsweek Korea
April 18, 2001

China Policy, Without Regrets
Bates Gill, Freeman Chair in China Studies, CSIS
New York Times
April 12, 2001

The EP-3E Standoff Ends. Now What?
Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.)
The Weekly Defense Monitor
Center for Defense Information
VOLUME 5, ISSUE #15, April 12, 2001
Original scrolled

Seven Thoughts from Beijing
Nicholas Berry
The Weekly Defense Monitor
Center for Defense Information
VOLUME 5, ISSUE #15, April 12, 2001
Via E-Mail distribution, not available online
FAIR USE NOTICE: Use of this copyrighted material has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

By Captain Guy Greider
Continental Airlines
April 12, 2001

U.S., China deal falters over standoff letter
By staff and wire reports/CNN
April 9, 2001
Web posted at: 11:16 PM EDT (0316 GMT)

Hainan Incident: Loud Wake-Up Call for the Region
Bates Gill, Freeman Chair in China Studies, CSIS
Newsweek Korea
April 6, 2001

Spy Plane Standoff
April 3, 2001

Chinese Embassy Bombing--Media Reply, FAIR Responds

U.S. Media Overlook Expose on Chinese Embassy Bombing

NATO expresses regret, resolve after bombing Chinese embassy
Outdated intelligence may be to blame for 'very bad mistake'
May 8, 1999, Web posted at: 8:31 p.m. EDT (0031 GMT)

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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