Sat, Nov 10, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Red Guards don't die; they become diplomats

By Wu Suli 烏蘇里

At a press conference at the APEC meeting in Shanghai last month, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇) corrected a journalist from Taiwan in a harsh voice, saying that the term "Communist China" had already passed into history. He then blocked Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) from speaking. The people of Taiwan were deeply humiliated by the incident and reacted strongly.

The DPP and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took the opportunity to protest loudly against the Chinese Communist Party's behavior, attracting the attention of top-level Chinese leaders. Vice Premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛), who is responsible for foreign affairs and is known for his cool temper, was very dissatisfied with Tang and, in an internal meeting, criticized him for being inflexible.

In his criticism of Tang, Qian said: "At international meetings, we can show a bit more flexibility. You could have let him [Lin] speak, after which you could have added your remarks. The initiative would have remained in our hands." I hear that Qian's tone of voice wasn't particularly stern, but that he had a severe look on his face.

People in the know point out that an unyielding and belligerent attitude, and a lack of refined and courteous behavior, are common traits among Chinese diplomats, and certainly not the exclusive preserve of Tang. Most of the China's diplomats have a background in the Cultural Revolution, some having served among the Red Guards.

Wu Jianmin (吳建民), for example, the previous spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now China's ambassador to France, is a rebel through and through. When Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) was China's ambassador to the US, he was given the derisive nickname "Fighting Cock" by overseas Chinese for his displays of anger.

Some international friends of China have actually told its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the country's diplomats don't behave diplomatically. Old habits die hard, don't they?

Wu Suli is a columnist for the Hong Kong-based Open Magazine.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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