Wide gulf re­mains be­tween the US, China

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Im­me­di­ately af­ter his state visit to the United States, China’s leader Xi Jin­ping headed for New York, as did his host, Barack Obama. Both men, and other world lead­ers, were in the city to ad­dress the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, which is mark­ing its 70th an­niver­sary.

At the state din­ner on Sept. 25, Obama and Xi both of­fered toasts to the friend­ship of their two peo­ples, ap­par­ently with great sin­cer­ity, with Obama call­ing on the two coun­tries to “work to­gether, like fin­gers on the same hand.”

And yet, only three days ear­lier, the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace had re­leased a ma­jor study, “Per­cep­tion and Mis­per­cep­tion in Amer­i­can and Chi­nese Views of the Other,” which showed that the peo­ple of the two coun­tries were far from be­ing close friends.

The key find­ing was that there are “sub­stan­tial gaps in Amer­i­can and Chi­nese per­cep­tions of the ba­sic traits and char­ac­ter­is­tics” of the other. “In gen­eral,” the study con­cluded, “mis­trust of the ex­ter­nal world on the Chi­nese side stems from ed­u­ca­tional so­cial­iza­tion and media mes­sag­ing.” This is aca­demic jar­gon for say­ing that mis­trust of the United States by the Chi­nese peo­ple is the re­sult of Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda in schools and media cen­sor­ship.

So while Xi as pres­i­dent was propos­ing a toast to friend­ship be­tween the Chi­nese and Amer­i­can peo­ples, Xi as gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party was feed­ing the Chi­nese peo­ple a steady diet of anti-Amer­i­can pro­pa­ganda.

On the Amer­i­can side, the Carnegie study found that Tea Party sup­port­ers demon­strate “very low lev­els of trust to­ward China” and ad­vo­cate “much tougher eco­nomic and mil­i­tary poli­cies.” How­ever, it said, “the Tea Party is less in­ter­ested in interfering in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of China than other el­e­ments of the pop­u­la­tion.”

At the United Na­tions, Xi and Obama were both sup­port­ive of ac­tion on cli­mate change, de­vel­op­ment and peace­keep­ing. How­ever, there were also marked dif­fer­ences on other is­sues.

Xi de­clared that no mat­ter how strong it be­came, China would “never pur­sue hege­mony, ex­pan­sion or spheres of in­flu­ence.” This state­ment came days af­ter he as­serted on the White House lawn that “is­lands in the South China Sea since an­cient times are China’s ter­ri­tory,” de­spite con­flict­ing claims by four South­east Asian coun­tries.

‘It is peo­ple’s choice about

how they are gov­erned’

Obama, in his U. N. speech, pointed out that the U.S. is not a claimant but urged China and other claimants “to re­solve their dif­fer­ences peace­fully.”

At another point, Obama said, with­out men­tion­ing China by name: “You can try to con­trol ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, but you can­not turn a lie into truth. It is not a con­spir­acy of U.S.-backed NGOs that ex­pose cor­rup­tion and raise the ex­pec­ta­tion of peo­ple around the globe; it’s tech­nol­ogy, so­cial media and the ir­re­duc­ible de­sire of peo­ple ev­ery­where to make their own choices about how they are gov­erned.”

Only days be­fore, at a joint press con­fer­ence, Obama had told the in­ter­na­tional media in Xi’s pres­ence that “pre­vent­ing jour­nal­ists, lawyers, NGOs and civil so­ci­ety groups from op­er­at­ing freely” are “prob­lem­atic and, in our view, ac­tu­ally pre­vent China and its peo­ple from re­al­iz­ing its full po­ten­tial.”

China’s Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress is con­sid­er­ing leg­is­la­tion to con­trol for­eign non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, and Xi, in a key ad­dress in Seat­tle, de­fended such ac­tion by say­ing that China will “pro­tect their oper­a­tions” through leg­is­la­tion but that these non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions “need to obey Chi­nese law and carry out ac­tiv­i­ties in ac­cor­dance with law.” Of course, it is the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, which threat­ens to place for­eign non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions un­der po­lice con­trol, that makes them fear­ful.

The bot­tom line for China is the in­def­i­nite con­tin­u­a­tion in power of the Com­mu­nist Party. Xi told the Gen­eral Assem­bly that, as a mat­ter of sovereignty, all coun­tries have the right “to in­de­pen­dently choose so­cial sys­tems and de­vel­op­ment paths” with­out say­ing that the peo­ple of those coun­tries should pe­ri­od­i­cally have the right to choose their lead­ers and their sys­tems.

Obama, with­out deny­ing the prin­ci­ple that peo­ple have the right to choose their po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, de­plored the “ero­sion of the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples and hu­man rights” in some coun­tries where “in­for­ma­tion is strictly con­trolled” and “the space for civil so­ci­ety re­stricted.”

“We’re told that such re­trench­ment is re­quired to beat back dis­or­der,” he said, “that it’s the only way to stamp out ter­ror­ism, or pre­vent for­eign med­dling.” In­deed, the need to main­tain po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and fear of for­eign in­ter­fer­ence are con­stant themes raised by the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party as ar­gu­ments against po­lit­i­cal re­form.

So, de­spite a 21-gun salute for Xi and a state din­ner at the White House, it seems, there re­mains a wide gulf be­tween the United States and China that is un­likely to be bridged any­time soon. Frank.ching@gmail.com Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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