Backtalk, June 09, 2008

Give China Some Face

It is interesting that the author talked about “the world” throughout the article. It really should be “the West” instead. I’d say it’s typical for a Westerner to consider himself representing the world. The West does not represent the world. It never has and is becoming less so. I hope this trend continues. It’s a lot healthier for the world when the “powers” get cut down in size.

~ Lily Wu

Sascha Matuszak replies:

Yes, that is interesting. I never consciously think of myself as representing the world or as being a “Westerner” – I guess I have been programmed to do so subliminally.

The article is wrong in the claim that Chinese language doesn’t differentiate patriotism and nationalism. In the Chinese language, patriotism and nationalism are two different words as well. Ai guo zhu yi indicated in the article means patriotism, nationalism is min zu zhu yi.

~ Ler Lian Wee

Sascha Matuszak replies:

That’s true, but I qualified the statement with a “today” because ai guo zhu yi is used in the media and by the government most often and, in practice if not in theory, has come to mean both ai guo (“love the nation”) and min zu zhu yi.

Dear Sascha Matuszak,

You seem to see this Chinese nationalism/patriotism as something that just began this year, something that has spontaneously burst forth from the people, something that is in no way stimulated, moderated, and later extinguished by the Communist Party.

Stop drinking that idealistic Kool-Aid; it sounds like you’ve been reading Mao’s Little Red Book. The Communist Party has used nationalism/patriotism in many instances in both long past and in recent memory, most notably recently against the Japanese (a few years ago when Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo), the Americans (after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, downing of Chinese MiG fighter and later emergency landing of American plane on Hainan Island), the Taiwanese (you name it), etc. They stoke the fires of nationalism, allowing a hundred flowers to bloom on the Internet against anything from Japanese cars and consumer goods to Western men who “prey” on young Chinese women (there’s quite a shortage of these, relative to young men of the same age). The policemen stand by while protesters smash windows in the Japanese embassy, etc. etc. A point is reached, however, when the Communist Party finally sends a message out – “Enough, now, put a cork in it” – and it disappears.

The Chinese would never invite the Dalai Lama to Beijing for the Olympics. … Maybe they’ll invite the leaders of Falun Gong too, and the Taiwanese ex-President Chen Shui-bian. Right? They could all sit down and hold a “splittist conference.” Just yesterday, KMT Chairman Wu Bo-shung met with Hu Jin-tao, and he was unable to call the democratically elected president of the Republic of China on Taiwan (I call it Taiwan personally), Ma Ying-jeo, “President Ma.” He had to call him, “Mr. Ma,” as calling him by his proper title, “president,” would have upset the sensibilities of the Chinese.

The problem with the west is that they mistakenly believed that by embracing China and welcoming them to the community of nations, the resulting economic growth would foster more democracy and freedom for the people of China. Perhaps it will in the future, but I’m not too hopeful at this point, where Western companies, agog over the prospect of reaping profits from the giant Chinese market, have been co-opted to perpetuate the central control of the Communist Party at all costs.

~ PM, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Sascha Matuszak replies:

Well first off, I am not drinking Kool-Aid. If you read through the column again, you will find that I mention the government’s willingness and ability to warp the minds of the people. I also mention that it is not just the Party’s tools that manipulate the society, but society’s rigid rules themselves, basically face and peer pressure à la Red Guards. I know the government will keep a grip as long as possible, but experience tells me embracing works better than confrontation here.

I am actually exasperated often in China when I discuss anything with my friends. The Party has done a tremendous job of brainwashing pretty much everyone, but again one can’t just say Chinese are sheep. There is a lot more behind this than political persuasion. Chinese are confused and hurt by the world’s scrutiny and criticism, so they naturally react defiantly. To many Chinese, it seems like the world is out to get them. Disregarding all of the issues the society has concerning the Victim and the Ego, I have seen that it is counterproductive to attack China.

The Party is fearful and reacts violently to squash any threats. In the eight years I have been here, I have seen such dramatic – dramatic isn’t the word, ridiculous? – social changes take place. At the same time, things remain as they have been for hundreds if not thousands of years.

So although the Party infuriates me as well, I can easily imagine and will continue to hope for China to (proverbially) invite the Dalai Lama in for tea. A nation allowed to grow organically will become confident enough to relax its grip. A country constantly prodded and scrutinized will never feel comfortable enough to do this.

Israeli Talks With Syrians Make Sense

Many propose that Israeli talks with Syria indicate a deviation from U.S. neocon orthodoxy, and thus a waning of U.S. influence on Israel. But Israel has always done what it wants. That is well documented by Mearsheimer and Walt. The influence has always run primarily in the other direction: Israel influences the U.S. to do as it wishes.

So, if Israel talks to the Syrians and the U.S. seems opposed, the most likely explanation is that the two governments have agreed to play the roles of good cop/bad cop with Syria as Bush prepares to attack Iran. The idea is to start “peace talks,” concluding and conceding nothing, but leaving things at a “promising stage,” so that Syria will be quiet (not wanting to jeopardize progress in those promising talks) as Bush and Israel devastate Iran.

There’s precedent for this, of course.

Doesn’t anybody remember how the U.S. softened up Iran by undertaking cooperative arrangements, such as intelligence sharing, prior to the Afghan and Iraq wars? Iranians seemed stunned when the U.S. turned on a dime after the fall of Baghdad and said “You’re next!”

It’s so obvious: the bully temporarily buddies up to one guy while he beats up the another. And so it’s no surprise that Israel is demanding, in its current talks with Syria, that Syria first of all cut all ties with Iran. Divide and conquer.

Don’t be fooled, Syria. You’re next.

~ Mark W.

Heroic Sacrifices for Foolish Causes

I fail to see how the author could see so clearly the immorality of virtually every war we’ve waged – except the current debacle in Afghanistan. Even if one believes that the Taliban was harboring bin Laden, to unleash aerial bombing in civilian areas against a stateless enemy is a foolish endeavor that can only end horribly.

Short of resorting to granting letters of marque and reprisal, our response could not have avoided a massive slaughter of innocent victims, and has surely been an effective recruiting tool for Muslim extremists.

In short, what are we doing intervening in Afghanistan? Six years along and we’ve accomplished nothing, while squandering lives and treasure.

There is no strategy that I can detect other than to maintain permanent military bases in the region and to enrich a few arms merchants.

Embroiling ourselves in what amounts to a civil war half a world away seems like a really stupid idea. I’m wondering how many American soldiers in that country have concluded that they’re fighting and dying for a lie.

~ Steve Hogan

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