Ji Xiang about getting started with China, stereotypes, and finding a balance between Chinese and Western ways of life.
Ji Xiang is a blogger from Europe who lives in China. In his first blog post, in 2008, he explained how he got his Chinese name. And he is probably one of very few foreign China bloggers who started blogging almost right on arrival in the country, and have kept to the habit ever since.
Q: Ji Xiang, you are Chinese by name, but you are actually from Europe, right?
That’s right. My mom’s British, and my dad’s Italian. I grew up in Italy, although I have also lived in Britain. It’s not too obvious unless you look at my blog very carefully though. Interestingly, some of my readers have assumed I was American in the past.
Q: Could that be because your stance comes across as more “pro-Western” than that of most sinologists or Westerners who speak Chinese? It seems to me that both Foarp and you stand out as rather critical of what might be called “cultural relativism”, or a preparedness to find human rights violations tolerable because of a country’s culture, a “situation on the ground”, etc.
Well, I’m not sure if that makes you seem more like an American or not. Foarp is after all British. But to be honest, I think a lot of Westerners who speak Chinese have the same sort of opinions as I do. I don’t think of myself as “pro-Western” really, I am quite aware of all the bad things Western countries have done around the world, and the shortcomings of the “West” (if there really is such a thing as the West. But that’s another debate). But that doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-Chinese.
When it comes to human rights violations, I don’t really buy cultural justifications. I mean, East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have created systems where basic human rights are respected, so it obviously isn’t only Western countries which can reach that point. The argument that human rights have to be put aside when a country is still poor and developing is more complicated. I think certain basic rights, like the right not to disappear, be tortured or speak your mind without going to jail, should be respected, and I don’t think the right to have a full belly clashes with these other rights.
There might however be a good argument for not holding elections in countries where most of the people are illiterate, or divided along ethnic or tribal lines. Say in Yemen or Burkina Faso. Even in Arab countries, it is clear that elections often bring religious fundamentalists to power.
Q: You went to China as a teacher in 2005, and came back to the country as a student. How did you get interested in China? You’ve spent a number of years there now, haven’t you?
I actually taught in China in 2004, and that was just for a summer. I then went back to China because I got a scholarship to get a master’s degree there. I have spent over six years in China by now.
Q: Was 2008 a good time to start a blog? You might have started one in 2005, the heydays of the (English-language) “Chinese blogosphere”. Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences, which got your blog started?
Well in 2005 I didn’t live in China, and had only spent a few months there. I had no basis for writing a blog about it. I only discovered recently that that was supposed to be the heyday of the “Chinese blogosphere”. Pity I missed it. I started my blog when I started living in China full-time. In the beginning, it was mainly to share my experiences with my family and friends back home. Now it’s turned more into a blog of commentary about China.
Q: Do the statistics or feedback give you an idea about who your readers are?
A bit. Most of my hits are from the United States, but I think that might be to do with the fact that most of the VPNs people use in China redirect there. Curiously, I also seem to have a lot of readers from Germany, Ukraine and Russia (well, you are one of the ones from Germany). Other than that, my most read posts are the ones with titles which people can come across randomly on Google.
Q: Apart from the blogs your blogroll, are there others – about China or other countries and topics – that you read regularly?
To be honest, not really. I mostly look at those few blogs on China which are on my blogroll (which includes your one). And there is my uncle’s blog, he lives in Israel and blogs about his life there and Israeli topics.
Q: Did family history contribute to your interest in China?
Not really. I don’t have any relatives who have lived or live in China. Having said that, the first time I came to China was with my parents. They are active in the international Esperanto movement, and in 2004 the World Esperanto Congress was in Beijing, so they were going to China to attend it and I went with them. That’s when I first got interested in China. Being able to speak Esperanto helped plug me in to the community of Chinese Esperanto speakers, which has been a nice way to get to know some cool, unusual Chinese people.
Q: Most bloggers will sometimes be surprised by the responses a post of them triggers. Have there been reactions and comments that surprised you during the past seven years?
After visiting Vietnam, I wrote a post on why the Vietnamese dislike China. It got quite a few reactions from Vietnamese readers, most of them proving my original point. One of them actually claimed that Daoism, the I Ching and the idea of Ying/Yang originally came from Vietnam and not from China. Total nonsense as far as I know. Unfortunately unreasonable nationalism is widespread throughout Asia. At its basis lies a wall of mental rigidity and misinformation which is very hard to break through. Then again, Europe was probably similar up until the Second World War. And Westerners have their own unreasonable prejudices, just look at the persistence of antisemitic tropes among some people, or how so many Europeans will complain that immigrants get more benefits from the state than locals even when it just isn’t true.
Q: It seems that you’ve got most of your Chinese education in the North. Is that so, and do you think it differs from learning Chinese language, ways of interaction, etc., in the South?
You are correct. Although I’ve traveled all over China, I live in Beijing. It’s a stereotype to say that the North is best for learning to speak Mandarin, but actually I think you can learn just as well in most big Southern cities, because nowadays most people speak it there too. I think the Southern Chinese do tend to be a bit more like we imagine the Chinese to be (quiet, indirect, reserved), but in the main I don’t think the cultural difference between Northern and Southern China is that huge. It might not even be as big as the one between Northern and Southern Italy! Whether you live in a small or a big city, and a rich or a poor part of China, probably makes more difference to your experience. But I’ve never lived in Southern China, so I stand to be corrected.
Q: How would you describe your daily life? Is it becoming still more “Chinese”, concerning your choice of food, newspapers, internet sources, or television?
In some ways I am, and in some ways I’m not. I would say that my lifestyle has stopped becoming more Chinese for a while. In fact, after an initial enthusiasm for “going native”, which many foreigners have at first, I think I have found a balance. In a city like Beijing you can find loads of foreign amenities, and it would be silly not to make use of them. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to live in a bubble like some expats do. It really comes down to who you hang out with, and I still hang out with lots of Chinese.
When it comes to food I am pretty Chinese: I like eating Chinese food when it’s properly made, and I even do my best to cook it at home. I have long stopped eating street food or patronizing cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places though, because of concerns about the hygiene and the quality. Many Chinese seem to have come to the same conclusion. Foreigners who pride themselves on being able to eat in such places without minding the consequences are either young foreign-exchange students, or they are pretty dimwitted.
When it comes to media, I still look at Chinese newspapers every now and again to see what they say, but for real news I mostly turn to foreign sources. Of course the language is one issue (it is obviously still much quicker for me to read in English or Italian), but also I think the European media is just superior in terms of giving you a decent picture of what goes on in the world, and, when it comes to sensitive issues, even in China! Same for entertainment: although I sometimes watch Chinese shows and films, in the main I still watch far more foreign ones. I make full use of Chinese internet sites like Baidu or Weibo though.
Q: Do you see changes on Weibo, in terms of real-name requirement, censorship, etc.?
When I got an account in 2011, it still wasn’t necessary to give your ID/passport number. As far as I know now it is, although I have heard you can still get away with giving a false one. In any case, I am sure that if they really want to they can find out who you are.
Q: Generally, when reading your blog, I got an impression overtime that you might think of China as a project, as a country or civilization headed into a rather benign future, compared with Western societies. And on the other hand, your criicism of China, or its political system, sounds pretty much like the general global criticism of it. Is this an accurate impression?
I’m not entirely sure where you got that impression from. I have unquestionably been getting more pessimistic about China, its system and its prospects over the last few years. I think to an extent the current system is geared in such a way that China always gives the impression to outsiders that it’s almost on the cusp of becoming a decent, progressive, modern and confident society, but then it never quite does. I think the political system is good at producing GDP growth, but pretty hopeless at solving the country’s huge social problems. Yes, China has more and more subways and high speed railways, and that’s useful and good for the people, but surely a country like China could do so much better than just that?
I hope China gets better with time, but I don’t think it’s a given that, if you wait 20 or 30 years, it’s all going to be much better. That’s how a lot of Chinese seem to think: just wait a few decades, and everything will solve itself. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
I think my criticism is also a bit different from that of someone who’s never lived in China, because I am far more aware of aspects like the rise of Chinese nationalism, which many foreign commentators seem blissfully unaware of.
Q: That unawareness seems to be quite a phenomenon. This is what Bruce Anderson (himself not necessarily a human-rights champion) said about Edward Heath, in a BBC radio documentary. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt might be another case in point.
Is there something Russia (for example) could learn from China, in terms of soothing external propaganda, or winning influential people over abroad?
Well, Chinese officials certainly are very good at flattering foreign visitors, saying the right things to them, and appearing reasonable and friendly. I don’t have much experience with the Russians, but I doubt they are as good at it. It’s probably not something you can learn either, it’s deep-rooted in the culture.
You have to remember that most Westerners know little about China, and obviously want to be open-minded. The unawareness of the rise of Chinese nationalism probably also lies in the fact that China does tend to leave other countries alone, as long they don’t have any territorial disputes with China of course, and as long as they don’t express any views on what China defines as its “internal affairs”. Of course China’s neighbours are very aware of its nationalistic side, especially the ones which have territorial disputes with it. But people in other parts of the world don’t get to see this side of things. And its not obvious to the casual visitor either.
The European media also focuses too much on the Middle East and almost never talks about Asia’s potentially explosive problems, like the dispute in the South China Sea and the anti-Japanese feeling in China or Korea. The only thing they ever talk about is the issue of Tibet, which has certainly damaged China’s image.
Then again, the real issue is one of projection. Many left-wing Westerners are predisposed to think well of any power which challenges the United States anywhere, regardless of what it really is or does. If you want to believe the best about China (or the worst for that matter), and you don’t live there, it’s easy enough. Right wingers on the other hand may see China’s rise as a vindication of free market economics, or god knows what. Everyone sees what they want to see in China, and no one knows much about it. This has always been the case.
Q: Do you have arguments with Chinese nationalists?
Well, in a sense I do, because I have political arguments with people in China, and most Chinese are nationalists at some level, although the level varies. The level of open-mindedness towards opinions which clash with modern Chinese nationalism, as the schools and media have constructed it, also varies. I know many Mainlanders who are perfectly open minded even about issues like Taiwan, and don’t just toe the line. I think they are a minority however. And by the way, they aren’t necessarily the people with most international exposure. On the other hand if you are talking about dyed-in-the-wool fenqing, rational debate is all but impossible.
My written Chinese is really not good enough to blog in it. I would actually be more likely to start a blog in Esperanto, a language I also speak.
Q: Ji Xiang, thanks a lot for this interview.
The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.
It seems that Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is kissing Beijing’s butt like never before – far beyond where it was in 2008, before DW suddenly started aiming at Beijing’s throat. DW director Peter Limbourg is currently travelling in China, according to a New York Times Sinosphere article, published online on Tuesday:
Mr. Limbourg was in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, Deutsche Welle said by telephone on Monday from its headquarters in Bonn. He was to take part in a China-German Media Forum starting on Tuesday in Beijing co-sponsored by Global Times, a nationalist newspaper that is part of the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily group, the broadcaster confirmed.
The New York Times’ Tuesday article also republishes an open letter by Su Yutong to director Limbourg. Su had been fired by DW on August 19. DW spokesman Johannes Hoffmann had told the New York Times last month that Su Yutong had tweeted about internal (DW) issues in a way that no company in the world would tolerate. We warned her, and she continued to do it.
Su’s open letter suggests a visit by Limbourg to Gao Yu (高瑜), a former contributor to DW who is now under detention in China.
German green-liberal daily tageszeitung (taz) reports about Su Yutong‘s case, the purportedly regular transferral of Chinese department director Matthias von Hein, and about at least two commentaries critical of Israel which had not been published – “they were in the editorial department’s computer system, ready for publication. But at the very last moment, someone put on the emergency brake and stopped publication.
All events combined – censorship of the Israel-related commentaries and the mess in the Chinese department – are causing misgivings, writes taz:
The German Journalists Association [Deutscher Journalisten Verband, DJV] has been asked for advice by several employees. The DJV is seriously worried, and its speaker, Hendrik Zörner, makes no secret of it: “What worries us greatly is that there’s a tendency at Deutsche Welle to influence content from the top.”
The broadcaster’s statement concerning censorship is curt: a message from chief editor Alexander Kudascheff says that the articles hadn’t met DW’s journalistic standards, and that there had been talks with the authors. The articles are on hand at taz, and while you may disagree with the authors, there is certainly no offense against journalistic standards.
Indeed, “standards” appear to have become a mantra of Deutsche Welle leaders when in fact, they seem to be targeting unwanted content. When a “monitor”, German sinologist Jörg M. Rudolph, was appointed to supervise the Chinese department in 2009, the stated goal had also been to “improve standards”.
In March 2013, the Journalists Association had expressed its hope that Peter Limbourg, who had just been chosen as Deutsche Welle’s new director, would put journalism first (dem journalistischen Auftrag des Senders sei Vorrang einzuräumen). The Journalists Association has also followed the issue of quasi-employees at DW.
Voice of Korea
The Voice of Korea (VoK), previously known as Radio Pyongyang, is the international broadcasting service of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. When I listened to the station in the 1980s, you got the national anthem at the beginning, and following that, some frequency announcements and the news. Since then, two not-so-collective leaderships, i. e. Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, have died, and all VoK programs begin with the national anthem, a song for Kim Il-sung, and another for Kim Jong-il (both military marches). But there’s still space for the news, readings from the works of Kim Il-sung, and a mixture of military marches and folk music (the latter of which is occasionally quite nice, but more frequently kitsch, sometimes with apparent Swiss characteristics).
There is currently no interference on 13760 kHz at 13:00 GMT (click here, or picture above, for a digital recording), but the Chinese program, although more silently than the scheduled English program, can be heard in the background, too. It is probably on the same feeder between the studios and the shortwave transmitters.
Thanks to long vacations, it’s a pretty big list for August.
International Telecommunication Union letter codes used in the table underneath:
AFS – South Africa; AIA – Anguilla; ARG – Argentina; ASC – Ascension Island; CHN – China; CLN – Sri Lanka; CUB – Cuba; IND – India; IRN – Iran; ISR – Israel; KRE – North Korea; MNG – Mongolia; PAK – Pakistan; RRW – Rwanda; RUS – Russia; SYR – Syria; THA – Thailand; TIB – Tibet; UAE – United Arab Emirates.
C – Chinese; E – English; Fa – Farsi; G – German; H – Hebrew; K – Korean; Pa – Pashto; Th – Thai; R – Russian; T – Tibetan.
|5960||PBS Xinjiang||CHN||C||Aug 2||23:00||3||4||3|
|7240||PBS Tibet||TIB||C||Aug 2||23:13||3||4||3|
|9330||Radio Damascus||SYR||G||Aug 3||18:00||2||3||2|
|15700||Voice of Russia||RUS||G||Aug 4||09:30||4||5||4|
|9430||China Radio International||CHN||C||Aug 4||14:21||4||5||4|
|6000||RHC Habana||CUB||E||Aug 5||03:00||3||3||3|
|6090||Caribbean Beacon||AIA||E||Aug 8||00:41||4||5||3|
|11540||VoA Radio Deewa||CLN||Pa||Aug 8||01:36||3||5||3|
|15850||Galei Zahal||ISR||H||Aug 8||02:55||3||5||2|
|6973||Galei Zahal||ISR||H||Aug 8||03:05||3||3||3|
|13850||KOL Israel||ISR||Fa||Aug 8||13:59||4||4||4|
|15760||KOL Israel||ISR||Fa||Aug 8||14:35||4||4||4|
|4920||Tibetan Radio1)||TIB||T||Aug 8||21:58||4||4||4|
|15235||Channel Africa||AFS||E||Aug 9||17:00||3||4||3|
|11290||Royal Air Force Volmet2)||ASC||E||Aug 9||19:18||4||4||4|
|9490||Deutsche Welle Kigali||RRW||E||Aug 9||20:27||4||4||4|
|12010||Voice of Russia||RUS||G||Aug 11||15:55||4||3||3|
|9855||Radio Australia||UAE||E||Aug 12||23:20||3||4||3|
|17895||All India Radio||IND||E||Aug 13||10:00||3||4||3|
|15180||Vo Korea||KRE||E||Aug 14||10:00||3||4||3|
|17820||Radio Thailand||THA||Th||Aug 14||10:31||4||5||4|
|15275||Radio Pakistan3)||PAK||E||Aug 14||11:00||?||?||?|
|9325||Vo Korea||KRE||K||Aug 15||20:01||4||5||4|
|15345||RAE Buenos Aires||ARG||G||Aug 15||20:55||4||3||3|
|9680||Radio Thailand4)||THA||G||Aug 20||20:00||4||4||5|
|21590||IRIB Tehran 5)||IRN||E||Aug 21||10:28||4||5||3|
|12085||Vo Mongolia||MGL||C||Aug 23||10:00||2||4||2|
|9330||Radio Damascus 6)||SYR||R||Aug 23||17:24||3||5||3|
1) SIO 444 on parallel frequency 4905 kHz
2) probably Ascension Island
3) SIO = 3, but modulation as bad as usual.
4) Interference from 9675 kHz, probably Radio Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Turkish-language program.
5) SIO 454 on parallel frequency 21640 kHz
6) Modulation as bad as usual, but the better reception than later in the evening (as usual in August).
» Previous Logs, August 2, 2012
Open civil war in Libya created the vacuum that drew the United Nations in. It was the grim outlook for Benghazi, its militias, and its inhabitants which stirred much of the Arab, European, and probably global public. Whenever you heard a discussion about Libya in everyday life, it was mostly about what was officially referred to as the responsibility to protect, or R2R.
Every time when military intervention is considered, many supporters of the option suggest that the situation is exceptional, and that it requires exceptional responses. But the frequency of such military interventions – in Yugoslavia in the late 1990s, in Sierra Leone and in East Timor in 2000, in Iraq in 2003, in Lebanon in 2006, in Georgia in 2008, and in Libya in 2011, just to name a few -, hardly suggests that military intervention can still be seen as an exception.
Now, military intervention in Syria appears to become more likely – depending on the sources you read, it may already be in progress -, and one in Iran may be somewhat further down the queue.
Responsibility to protect is a norm, not a law. Even if it were a law, different states with different interests could still disagree if the law applies,or if it doesn’t. When it’s a norm, decisions will depend either on ethics, or on interests, or on a combination of both. What counts in the decision-making process is which laws or rules may serve to make international “norm enforcement” legal.
In Libya’s case humanitarian considerations were only the tip of the iceberg – in global politics, anyway, not necessarily in the press. The need to help the vulnerable – the need to “do something”, as Aidan Hehir referred to this humanitarian urge in his The responsibility to protect and international law chapter*) -, seemed to dominate everyday discussions.
What was the actual iceberg about? I don’t know, obviously, but the first step to understand it better should be to look at the document that made military intervention in Libya legal. UN Resolution 1973
[…] Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory […]
An occupation force isn’t the same thing as ground forces, as far as I can see. The mandate was maxed by the intervening forces, but they weren’t necessarily in breach of it.
Which reasons did the resolution give for what was, after all, an intervention in a sovereign country? Civilian casualties, gross and systematic violation of human rights, the need for unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance, the Arab League’s support for a no-fly zone to be established, concern for the safety of foreign nationals in Libya, and the plight of refugees.
The Council welcomed the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt – tens of thousands of Libyans had fled their country, either to the east or to the west. It wouldn’t have taken too many months until Europe had faced an influx of refugees, too – in fact, Muammar Gaddafi had previously been Europe’s cooperation partner in keeping refugees from all over Africa south of the Mediterranean, and his sons had been welcome guests in Europe.
The first thing to do when judging the need to “do something” is to cool down – or to try, anyway. The beautiful language UN resolutions are wrapped into might as well be put into much more common words. Resolution 1973 became possible because Gaddafi – to various degrees – had become a disturbing factor in the business of all the stakeholders – Arab countries’, China’s, European countries’, and Russia’s.
The need to cool down also applies when it comes to the suspicions against political motivations. Many of these suspicions are certainly called for, but similar to the way many proponents of intervention monger their “morally superior” positions, many of the objections, too, are applied like cluster bombs.
It is probably wrong to think that there was that one overriding motivation (“Libyan oil” would probably be cited the most, when searching angry blog posts). It should be more accurate to think of goal hierarchies, rather than of single goals that would define the military mission. Among a bundle of goals, the desire to avoid growing flows of refugees was probably among the bigger ones, at least in Arabia and Europe.
But while the UNSC managed to integrate all the stakeholders’ positions in 2011, concerning Libya, interests seem to differ too widely this time, concerning Syria. Besides, even benign powers like Brazil and India distrust interventionism. Brazil seems to put its reservations forward constructively:
In November, Brazil pushed the debate further by circulating a concept paper to all UN members on a new concept: “responsibility while protecting.” While the Council had cited the “responsibility to protect” civilians from mass atrocities over Libya, the Brazilians argued that the Council should develop stronger guidelines for the use of force and procedures “to monitor and assess the manner in which resolution are interpreted and implemented.” Although the Brazilian paper never mentions Libya, the purpose of its recommendations is clear: to set out constraints that would prevent a repeat of NATO’s escalation of the campaign against Gaddafi, which so quickly slipped beyond the Council’s control.
Not that only America, the Arab League, Britain or France were to blame. Practically everything deemed necessary by the authorized member states had been made “legal” by the 1973 resolution – at least in the widest sense. That couldn’t have happened without the UN security council’s agreement.
But while more or less humanitarian initiatives might fool stakeholders with legitimate interests once, you can’t fool them every time you want.
*) Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect, Interrogating theory and practice, ed. Philip Cunliffe, Oxon, New York, 2011, p. 85
» Sheikh Hassoun interview, Der Spiegel, Aug 11, 2011
Enorth (Tianjin), February 2, 2010 –
According to China National Radio’s Central Broadcasting News, quoting Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Television of February 9, the Syrian military continued its crackdown against centers of conflict in Homs for the fifth consecutive day, from early in the morning. At the same time, the West was producing its “plan B”, aimed at the Syrian problem.
Okay, there America and other Western countries, bypassing the United Nations and the framework of the security council, with a so-called “plan B”, for solving the Syrian problem. Reportedly, the first step of “plan B” will be to completely block and besiege Syria, and in addition to diplomacy, carry out “wanton and indiscriminate humanitarian bombing” against Syria, to shake the Syrian authorities’ political confidence and foundations, such as all of them withdrawing their ambassadors, and expressing “vocal opposition, in speech and writing”, etc. The second step is to support Syrian opposition, to secretly or even openly provide oppositionals with arms, and to intensify their showdown with the government forces. In a third step, a “humanitarian corridor” is to be established in Syria, casting the shadows of possible military intervention.
According to Israel’s “DebkaFile” website, special troops from Qatar and Britain have infiltrated Homs, providing training and advice for armed opposition there, and to guide Western air assaults that may follow. During the war in Libya last year, it was exactly such special Western forces landing within Libyan borders to start similar activities there. Concerning this, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Lukashevich said that Russia would check and verify the news from Israel, which were “deeply worrying”.
According to Al-Jazeera on February 9, Turkey could become the “vanguard” of strikes against Syria. In accordance with a request from Turkish prime minister Erdogan, Russian president had a phone conversation with him and explained all Russian efforts to promote dialog and democratization in Syria. Reportedly, Turkey is currently preparing an international conference concerning the Syrian problem.
Yes, I know why an old Zhang-Zhaozhong related post of mine is currently among the top posts. Zhang Zhaozhong (张召忠 / Zhāng Zhàozhōng), a professor with the National Defense University (国防大学) told a Chinese television audience that “China would not hesitate to protect Iran with a third world war” if the West should launch an attack on the Islamic Republic.
But then, while we’ve heard American and British officials say that “all options are on the table”, even the Economist, which was quite supportive of the invasion of Iraq some eight years ago, described in one of its most recent editions why military options didn’t look like convincing:
Yet the arguments against an attack are still overwhelming, even for Israel. A sustained bombing campaign would take weeks and set off a firestorm in the Middle East, with Iran counter-attacking Israel through its proxies. It would do nothing to help regime change in Tehran. The economic consequences could be catastrophic. And to what end? A successful campaign would still only delay Iran, not stop it. The technical difficulties for Israel’s armed forces of carrying out such a broad mission over such a long time are immense. Indeed, the suspicion is that Mr Netanyahu would be betting that what Israel started, America would feel forced to finish.
Barack Obama should make it very clear to Mr Netanyahu that he would not do that. At the same time, he should pursue two courses: pushing sanctions, on the one hand, and preparing for a nuclear-armed Iran on the other.
I’m too busy to look Zhang’s statement up in the Chinese media now. But what I do know is that the professor’s statement – even if correctly quoted in our media – doesn’t spell a binding Chinese commitment to defend Iran – and as long as an attack on Iran isn’t seriously on the cards anyway, any third party can easily threaten a third world war over it, and try to become a celebrated anti-imperialist hero in the Middle East.
But above all, some people at home, in front of their television sets, will feel very important.
» Russia warns West, Reuters, December 1, 2011