China is showing all the signs of a spoiled brat -- a spoiled brat with thousands of years of cultural history, a booming economy, an arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles, and a crucial vote on the United Nations Security Council.
Having become accustomed to applause for everything they've done -- from succeeding in melding a form of market economy with totalitarian communism, to organizing the six-power talks with North Korea -- China's rulers now seem to expect adoration of their every thought and action. Meanwhile they have become quite adept at subtly dictating their desires to a near sycophantic Western world.
The imperiousness with which they often have charged the occidental powers has been a successful device in obtaining advantage in international political matters. In the simplest terms China has leveraged its own status as economically underdeveloped into a leading role among Third World nations in recent decades even while it is growing into a major industrial power.
Recently Beijing has thrown a tantrum over Western officials' meetings with the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan spiritual leader has made very clear he doesn't contest that Tibet is part of China, but rather that he only seeks autonomy as the right of the Buddhists in his homeland. For this the Chinese revile him as a "splittist" and seek commercial countermeasures against such countries as Germany that have honored the famous Tibetan.
The Beijing government's reaction to the American recall of millions of dollars of Chinese-made toys impregnated with lead paint and other poisonous substances has been characterized by infuriated comments from its ministry officials instead of fulsome apologies. One official suggested the problem was caused by "American imperialistic standards" rather than any fault of China's lack of proper controls.
Of course these matters pale in significance with the Chinese, and Russian, refusal to support increased sanctions against Iran for its driving ambition to develop a nuclear weapon capability. Beijing acts as if it were totally unwitting of the connection between Tehran's accelerated uranium enrichment program and the Iranian government's obvious steps to acquire nuclear war fighting armament. China, at the same, time condemns as "provocative" the United States' attempt to upgrade Taiwan's anti-missile shield against the substantial array of Chinese missiles aimed at that island nation, which Beijing considers a province.
The now well-publicized refusal of the Chinese to allow the already officially approved Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong of the Kitty Hawk carrier group was clearly a purposeful slight. Far more egregious, however, was the prevention earlier of two small U.S. Navy minesweepers from seeking safety in the port of HK from the expected powerful storm predicted to hit the South China Sea. Forced back out in contravention of all naval custom regarding "seeking safe harbor," the American ships rode out the dangerous high seas. These calculated insults are examples of Beijing's willingness to utilize any device to exert political pressure at its convenience.
The U.S. is not the only target of Chinese sharp elbows. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, during his trip to China this past week, was greeted by a refusal of the Chinese authorities to accept the fact that the renminbi, the Chinese currency, is undervalued close to 25% against the euro that ultimately adds to the massive trade imbalance ($200 billion annually) with the European Union.
Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, explained the situation quite succinctly: "Europeans will hope China takes its place in the multilateral sort of world that they would prefer. But China may not want a rules-based international system with strong multilateral institutions."
In other words, the Chinese want what they want, when they want it. Meanwhile, we are not supposed to challenge them. Don't upset the Asian apple cart. After all, they have seen the light and are now opening up their markets and are far less isolated. They hardly ever hack into our government computers anymore, buy their way into our political candidates, manipulate the UN's General Assembly, block the Security Council, suppress the free pursuit of religion in their country, coerce their minority communities, or have a large portion of their manufacturing industry owned by friends and relatives of the ranking officers of the People's Liberation Army.
To "kowtow" is an old Mandarin term. The Chinese are quite expert in getting others to do so. It must be avoided in order to have a balanced relationship. All of which is a nice way of saying diplomacy doesn't require us to prostrate ourselves in front of anyone -- and that includes the new Chinese emperors.
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