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Nobody likes us, now what?

November 12, 2009

I stumbled across this article which was translated into English from the original blog post in Chinese by a Chinese teacher/blogger Li Kaisheng  and my instant reaction was like, so what? It can’t get more natural for the neighbors of those “powers” of the world, be they global or regional powers, to be wary of them. Countries like the US, Japan, Germany and India came to mind. I’d argue that most of the neighboring countries of these powers are as suspecious of them as South Korea (perhaps I should even add the DPRK to the list given there is deep-seated anti-Chinese sentiment among North Korean elite and here), Mongolia, Vietnam and India are suspecious of China. It has less to do with the fact that China is authoritarian (while many of its neighbors are “democratic”) and more to do with China’s image that struck its immediate neighbors: a big, bad fat lard.  It’s not about what China does, it is about China being China. Therefore it is understandable that China’s neighbors are not showing enough affection for her, right?

Is Li Kaisheng getting so worked up over nothing? This reminds me of the inferiority complex suffered by many Chinese these days. They seem to be so obsessed with how foreigners perceive China and everything Chinese, so much so that any dose of criticism or a perceived insult from any non-Chinese could potentially amount to “辱华(Insulting China)” while positive comments or remarks from foreigners are seen as vindication of China’s self-perceived perpetual backwardness.  The Chinese really need to grow up and rid themselves of the yoke of inferiority complex and victim mentality that they had placed upon themselves.  The hell with what others say, do what you think is right.

That said, I agree with Li Kaisheng that it is in China’s interests to woo the neighbors (actually all the foreign countries out there for that matter). The question is how do you do that? As the case of China having developed massive economic relationship with South Korea has shown, economic dependence and trade don’t necessarily translate into political clout and genuine affection. Li suggested that China should adopt “a regional strategy” without giving specifics. I am no strategist and I will leave this question to Chinese policymakers and analysts to grapple with, I want to say something that might sound trivial to many: Start with regulating those Chinese companies that operate overseas. Tighten up business ethics. Make sure they comply with the laws, especially labor laws of the host country. I understand unemployment is a daunting problem in China. But for China’s sake, the Chinese government needs to prohibit domestic companies from unnecessarily bringing Chinese workers to work overseas. Hire locals. Create jobs.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2009 3:06 pm

    I concur with you concluding suggestions, Pffef.

    However, I think you’re being a bit hard on the article’s author. Being sensitive to the opinions of others isn’t the same as having a “victim mentality” or an “inferiority complex”. And he’s talking about the issue from the perspective of government policy rather than the feelings of ordinary Chinese people. The Chinese government wants and expects to be held in warmer regard by its neighbours because (and this, really, is quite a dramatic breakthrough in awareness for the Chinese leadership!) these emotional attitudes do impact on political and economic relationships. Most of the Chinese foreign policy papers I edit are full of self-deluding crap about how warm and cosy China’s relationships with its East Asian neighbours are; only a few of them dare to say that there is, in fact, a rather alarming gap between that desired ideal and the present reality.

  2. November 15, 2009 2:40 am

    Froog,

    Of course there is a striking difference between what Li’s article is saying and what the Chinese government is propagating. The official government line has always been painting a rosy picture which is not taken as reality even by the very same bunch of Chinese leaders and policymakers who are trying to sell it. There is no doubt that Chinese diplomats and policymakers etc. are getting increasingly sophisticated and more acutely aware of the important issues these days; however my fear is that they are not sophisticated and cognizant enough.

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