Sun, Sep 19, 2010 - Page 8 News List

China’s acting skills on full display

By Paul Lin 林保華

However, China’s attitude does seem to betray a certain acknowledgment that it does not really have much of a leg to stand on. Beijing started out content with a “stern message” delivered by a relatively low-ranking official. Only later, when this did not seem to have the effect it wanted, did China send in a bigger gun to “protest” the situation. It sent a succession of officials, including the deputy foreign minister, the Chinese ambassador to Japan, the foreign minister’s assistant and a foreign ministry spokesman.

This all paved the way for Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪). Since the supposedly China-friendly Japanese government was showing no sign of backing down, Beijing decided to send in an even higher-ranking official, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo (戴秉國), who summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa early on Sunday morning last week for a stern dressing down.

What does this veritable retinue of diplomats and urgent summoning tell us? What is it, if it is not all an elaborate performance? Someone please give Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) an Oscar. The retinue of diplomats each deserve at least a nomination for best supporting actor. Make no mistake, though: The show is not for the benefit of the international community, it is for the Chinese public, and especially the nationalistic youth, to reassure them of how “patriotic” their leadership is.

However, why the show? Well, because the Chinese government does not have a great record when it comes to patriotism; not only from the way they sold off clumps of territory to the former USSR, but also how they have handled international incidents with Russia.

In February, for example, the Chinese vessel New Star sank off Vladivostok after being fired at by the Russian navy. Some of the crew were rescued, but seven went missing and the captain of the vessel was prosecuted. Despite the seriousness of this incident, Chinese diplomats were instructed only to relay a stern message. The Russian authorities took little notice, saying that the actions of its navy were perfectly legal.

Clearly, the storm Beijing has whipped up over Japan’s arrest of the captain is politically motivated, kicking sand in the face of Japan just to flex its own muscles.

Japan’s response — releasing 14 crew members while keeping the captain detained — is basically designed to be reasonable without being a capitulation of Japan’s authority. In the long term, however, China’s biggest foe remains the US — still the most prominent democracy. Beijing will try to appeal to the common writing system and heritage of China and Japan to dissolve the US-Japan security treaty, so that it can gain control of the island chain. The US, Japan and Taiwan have to keep a watchful eye out for this, and must not show any sign of weakness lest China exploit a chink in the armor.

Paul Lin is a Taipei-based political commentator.


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