Liu Yawei Huanqiu Interview: So Much to Lose

[Update / Correction: Liu Yawei wrote an article published by Huanqiu Shibao – it’s not an interviewJR]

Liu Yawei (刘亚伟), director of the Carter Center’s China Program, wrote an opinion for Huanqiu Shibao, published on Friday, four days ahead of Chinese State Chairman and Party Secretary Hu Jintao‘s visit to the US. The following is my translation of his article.

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2010 may have been the most difficult year in Sino-American relations, he writes, but if the problems between the two weren’t solved, this would have an impact on Sino-American and international development which didn’t bear contemplating (不可想象). China’s rise and America’s decline had led to a power imbalance which was difficult to control, which made the meeting between Hu Jintao and Barack Obama all the more important. Without cooperation from America and the West, it would be difficult to complete China’s transformation successfully (没有美国和西方世界的配合,转型也许难以顺利完成).

On the American side, Liu identifies neo-conservatives and some liberals, retired and active military, defense industry spokespeople, and citizens suffering from current economic problems (面临暂时经济困难的普通百 姓) as initiators of the talk about a Chinese threat and alarmist statements about “China’s rise”, “America’s decline”. Liu also sees alarmist warnings about the inevitability of another war, similar to World War 1 between a rising Germany and a declining Britain. His explanation for such statements is that the Republican Party was using these arguments in its struggle to replace the governing Democrats, to accuse the Obama administration of behaving in a servile way, vis-a-vis China, and to advocate a fresh start in Washington’s China policy, plus a renewal of America’s glory.

As for the Chinese side, he mentions radical nationalists and “groups with vested interests”, talking about one-hundred years of humiliation, and issuing alarmist statements about the America-led Western camp which would never abandon its intentions to destroy China (“以美国为首的西方阵营亡我之心不死”  wáng wǒ zhī xīn bùsǐ), or trying to put yokes on China’s neck with arguments such as exchange rates, [having to buy American] bonds, the trade deficit, climate change, Middle-East anti-terrorism, and using countries –  neighboring China and being wary about China – as a noose [or yoke] against China (中国周边国家对中国的警惕都当作绞索一条). An unbalanced liberalization of China’s media had added to these peoples’ speaking power, and in a period of transition in China’s leadership, this attitude could easily influence the coordinates of China’s policy on America.

All that notwithstanding, the Chinese leadership was in a position to maintain cool heads, writes Liu. They should communicate to the world, and to their own citizens, that China wasn’t and would never become interested in hegemonism, and that it wasn’t able to surpass America. This communication work, however, shouldn’t be only up to the leadership, but needed popular participation.

It was necessary to rid oneself of “America conspiracies”, and Chinese America watchers and American personalities should help to inform the Chinese. The public needed to remember that America had a free press which didn’t necessarily reflect official opinions, that in election campaigns, China was often used to make statements, the power of Congress to legislate which kept changes in America’s policies on China slow, that if America wanted to contain China, it wouldn’t have close economic and financial relations with China, nor would it welcome Chinese students, and that America was still far ahead of China, and that the talk about “American decline” could be viewed as shallow, and even as presumptuous, by the outside world.

Liu acknowledges that there was the potential for friction and even clashes between the two countries, for the differences in their national interests and security concerns. But one should be vigilant about the arguments of people and groups with vested interests, who existed in both countries, he adds.

In his last paragraph, Liu calls for a “Fourth Communiqué which should certify [or guarantee – 保证] the differences in China’s and America’s histories, deal with each others impartially [or fair – 公正], and make the two countries play a historically important role on the international stage.

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The last paragraph is either somewhat vague, or I didn’t really grasp it, in this translation.

Many readers outside China would probably agree with some of Liu’s points, but, with some likelihood, also find them incomplete. It is remarkable for an article published by Huanqiu Shibao that Liu sees vested interests in “derailing” Sino-American relations not only in America, but also in China. That said, the nationalists he refers to are a reality, and that China would find it difficult to transform (to whichever end this transformation may have to serve) without Western cooperation is a reality, too. This, I believe, is also the main Chinese motivation – if there is any – to tone domestic extremist utterances down. The article is quite in line with the message Hu Jintao himself had to the American public in recent days, prior to his state visit beginning on Tuesday – that “we both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation”.

Explaining some of the American political rituals in which China serves as a cudgel, Liu also provides Huanqiu Shibao readership with explanations as to why the Chinese leadership isn’t singing exactly the tunes many nationalists would die to hear.

But given that the publishing paper is Huanqiu Shibao indeed, arguably a paper with one of the country’s most nationalist readership, these explanations and warnings didn’t get a very warm welcome – at least not initially:

Eating that family’s food, he has to think of that family’s interests – no wonder (吃那家的饭,就要为那家着想,不足奇), a commenter wrote on Saturday night.

Once the fenqings had their say, however, it was other commenters’ turn, too. Some even pointed out that differences in values or ideology were actually causing problems in Sino-American relations.

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Related
Ma Ying-jeou concerned about Hu’s US visit, Straits Times, Jan 17, 2011
A Model and an Outline, January 4, 2011

2 Comments to “Liu Yawei Huanqiu Interview: So Much to Lose”

  1. If ever there was a HOS meeting doomed to total failure since 1900, I would appreciate someone bringing it to my attention. Two totally different mentalities talking past each other, with their respective Greek choruses at home paving the way for long-term non-political solutions.

    Since I was the first on the general bridge sites to note China’s, Hello World, Here We Come blitz, may as well follow up with a jeer and smirk. Whoever sold Team Hu this idea should be drowned in a vat of recycled cooking oil. Dragooning Chinese scientists and celebs to deliver this sort of triumphalist message will be counterproductive to put it mildly. It just won’t resonate.

    While the US’s faults are all over the global media for all to read and finger point, the Chinese government’s behaviour on a variety of domestic and international fronts ***appears*** as sinister, duplicitous and a serious threat to the whole Western Enlightenment project. Now, if China could point to Pan Asian support for its recent ascendency, this post could be disregarded as so much honky sour grapes.

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  2. Hm… the Potsdam Conference in summer 1945 might qualify, given that it marked not only the end of the war alliance, but the beginning of the cold war, too. I guess Hu’s US visit won’t mark a similarly dramatic turning point. Besides, Taiwan’s president is worried that Hu might be too successful in creating harmony.

    Joseph Nye wrote an article for the BBC today – “China’s hubris colours US relations”. One of the liberals, besides the neo-cons, mentioned by Liu. However, Nye doesn’t explain why he believes that the Chinese view of American decline is mistaken. His “soft power” theory may offer a clue here, but one would probably need to read the book.

    Like

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