A long time ago, it was customary for representatives of states to pay tribute to the Chinese emperor, who “ruled all under heaven.” The tributary system, as it was known, “acknowledged” China’s place at the center of everything. From a Chinese perspective, everything outside China was lower in the hierarchy.
For a number of reasons, including politics and geography, China lost steam around the time that Europe, led by Britain, embarked on the Industrial Revolution. Warlordism and colonialism ensured that for the next 200 years or so, China would stay behind while the West, and then Japan, modernized.
This period turned into an existential wound for the Chinese, and in it lie the seeds of its behavior as it rises anew. Nationalism is not enough to explain the sense of exceptionalism that characterizes the Chinese leadership’s view of itself. Something more, something fundamental, perhaps stemming from its thousands of years as a civilization, is behind this.
Whenever Beijing claims that the actions of others are “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people,” it taps into that feeling of Chinese greatness.
The modern age, however, cannot easily accommodate the tributary system of old that Beijing seems keen on resuscitating. For one, the world has transformed and, in theory, if not application, the global system is no longer regulated by a hierarchy based on biology or theology — in other words, no “race” is paramount and no head of state is godlike.
This raises questions about the willingness of many heads of state to countenance Chinese exceptionalism, which is giving rise to a neo-tributary system on a global scale. Rather than treat China as an equal, states bend over backwards to avoid “angering” it, and in so doing encourage more childishness.
For obvious reasons, China should be embraced as a major developing nation and given a place at the table that is commensurate with its importance. It is in no one’s interest, however, to inflate Beijing’s sense of importance. What China needs as it continues its rise is a degree of humility, but this will only develop if other nations maintain their dignity.
When US President Barack Obama gives Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama the cold shoulder (the first time since 1991 that a US president will not meet the spiritual leader while he is in Washington) lest meeting him anger Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) ahead of the Obama-Hu meeting next month, it sends the wrong signal. If there is one place where the president of the most powerful country in the world should do as he chooses, it is on US soil.
The same could be said of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who snubbed the Dalai Lama during his trip to Taiwan last month, or of Taiwan’s — and now perhaps New Zealand’s — refusal to allow Uighur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer to visit.
China’s rise is extraordinary, if not unprecedented. But there is nothing supernatural about it, nor is it a symbol of superiority — Han Chinese chauvinism notwithstanding. China’s rise also comes at great cost: grave human rights violations, environmental degradation and support for repressive regimes.
The more accommodating the world is to Beijing’s sense of superiority, and the more it tries not to anger China, the greater China’s tendency will be to regard itself as above criticism.
There is no reason why Obama should not meet the Dalai Lama. Unless he, too, is willing to kowtow before the Chinese emperor.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), also a former chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), has said that he plans to travel to China from Monday next week to April 7 to pay his respects to his ancestors in Hunan Province. The trip would mark the first cross-strait visit by a former president of the Republic of China (ROC) since its government’s retreat to Taiwan in 1949. Ma’s trip comes amid China’s increasing air and naval incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, and at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) continues to seek to annex Taiwan. Ma’s trip could be
The US intelligence community’s annual threat assessment for this year certainly cannot be faulted for having a narrow focus or Pollyanna perspective. From a rising China, Russian aggression and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, to climate change, future pandemics and the growing reach of international organized crime, US intelligence analysis is as comprehensive as it is worrying. Inaugurated two decades ago as a gesture of transparency and to inform the public and the US Congress, the annual threat assessment offers the intelligence agencies’ top-line conclusions about the country’s leading national-security threats — although always in ways that do not compromise “sources and methods.”
Let’s begin with the bottom line. The sad truth of the matter is that Beijing has trampled on its solemn pledge to grant Hong Kong a great deal of autonomy for at least fifty years. In so doing, the PRC ignored a promise Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) made to both Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the wider world back in the early 1980s. This was at a time when Beijing, under Deng and his successors, appeared to be seeking an equitable accommodation with the West. I remain puzzled by China’s recent policy shift. Was it because Hong Kong was perceived
The recent removal of items related to Japanese Shinto culture from the Taoyuan Martyrs’ Shrine and Cultural Park has caused an uproar. The complex was built as a Shinto shrine by the Japanese during the colonial period, but was transformed into a martyrs’ shrine commemorating veterans of the Chinese Civil War after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Figurines of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu Okami were allowed into the shrine for a cultural event last year, attracting throngs of visitors to see the Shinto decorations and practices. However, some people accused the Taoyuan City Government of