What Strategy in Unmatched Fury?

China’s beligerent tone with regard to its national winning the Nobel peace prize, in historical perspective:

China is not the first nation to be rankled by a Nobel Peace Prize. But its furious assault on the 2010 award to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo has reached proportions last seen during the Soviet and Nazi regimes.

Even Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them. Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.

But China’s clampdown on Liu’s relatives means the Nobel medal and diploma likely won’t be handed out for the first time since 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting the prize.

It has been reported that China has also asked (or demanded) that Japan, Korea, and a number of European states skip the Novel peace prize ceremony. Five states have followed China’s lead — Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco and Iraq. That’s an interesting set of friends. For Kazakhstan, that refusal is likely based on China becoming a growing export market for Kazakh hydrocarbons. For Iraq, it’s thanks to China’s monumental investment in construction and oil and gas projects in the country, as Western companies continue to treat the state as a hostile danger zone. For Cuba, and to a lesser degree Russia, it probably emphasizes with being criticized abroad for domestic repression — and even a smack of Communist solidarity. And as for Morocco… I’m not sure, but there appear to be strong developing ties between the two countries.

I can’t see how China’s confrontational tone works in their favor. The cardinal rule of international politics under the philosophy of this blog is — speak Victorian! China’s rough treatment of Japan over a minor incident by a drunk fisherman has pushed the DPJ administration to abandon a China relationship as a cornerstone of its strategy, pushing Japan squarely back into the arms of the US. And just yesterday, China ordained a bishop over Vatican objections, angering the Vatican, despite the Vatican’s best efforts to promote friendly relations with Beijing for at least the past decade. In both these incidents, we see China’s refusal to return any favors in kind.

If I could understand the PRC’s strategy from a realist perspective, I would be more comfortable with it. But I don’t understand what China has going for it with this strategy — which seems closer to North Korea more than anything else.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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8 Responses to What Strategy in Unmatched Fury?

  1. Paul says:

    Some thinker, I don’t remember who, proposed that China’s behaviour might be explained in terms of power struggles between hardliners, mostly nationalists and militarists, and moderates in the run up to the party conference of 2012. Maybe the hardliners are winning.

  2. Bryan says:

    China has considerable amounts of swagger at the moment and their definitely are elements in their decision-making circles (and general population) who believe that western-liberal democracy is so 20th century and their systems is superior (as vindicated by the 2008 recession and ‘slow’ recovery by Western nations). Many of the folks leaning toward this angle came into their own during 80′s and 90′s and while they didn’t have the benefit of the patriotic education system as the post-Tiananmen Square generation, they were the ones that engineered it’s nationalistic goals.

    With that ‘heir apparent’ attitude, much of their PR is focused internally in efforts to bolster nationalism and continue to build their national narrative of a Western-led world that is attempting to “keep China down” and that the CCP has (and is) the only entity able to protect the Chinese people. While the recent fishing captain incident was a complete waste of their rare-earth metals card, destroyed their soft-power policy and freaked out just about everyone else, the PRC leadership obviously though it was worth it because it jived so incredibly well with their narrative. The Nobel Peace Prize was just another mechanism with which to wield internally. Helps incredibly when you control your media (despite the increase in China apologists regarding PRC media…especially expats). On a side note, their media also likes to play up transgressions against any Chinese abroad (citizens or others) as a nuclear holocaust “See? The world doesn’t like you”.

    Their diplomatic service is hopelessly worthless…constantly embarrassing themselves on the international scene with drunken outbursts and unbelievably poor comments. James Fallows of the Atlantic writes considerably about the inane ability of the PRC to shoot themselves in the foot over trivial matters.

    Truth is though…I don’t think they really care about their international image, because a poor image abroad is good for them internally. If it is true, that China will inherit the smoking remains of the West, it’s just a waiting game for them…who cares about international PR, cooperation and global stewardship.

  3. TDL says:

    Could it be that moderates (who I assume are the ones mostly in charge) are playing up the nationalist angle in order to counteract political gains made by hardliners/nationalists? I know the Chinese are hypersensitive about how they are perceived (maybe a little more Lao Tzu is in order,) but I’m no China specialist. Whenever I hear about the internal workings of the Chinese government I always think of the phrase from Dune, “plots within plots within plots.”

    The contrarian in me, however, is seeing the lack of humility that precedes a fall (I am reminded of Japanese investors & business overpaying for American assets as they were asserting the superiority of their system.)


  4. China’s external conduct seems to be entirely inner-directed. Gestures are made toward the outside world as chess moves in the internal factional struggle. This suggests that no one is really in charge of external affairs, or that external affairs in governed by stereotyped rather than empirical views. The problem is, of course, that the outside world can, and will, from time to time, impinge itself. This all suggests a more uncertain and unstable leadership. A lack of constitutional mechanisms for deliberation, policy making, law making and succession is a huge structural defect. Democracy in the broad sense of lawful and open governance is not a frilly little nice-to-have, Thomas Friedman to the contrary. It is the foundation of long term stability, especially crisis stability. A Chinese leadership that reaps dividends at home by acting with swagger and threats abroad is a danger to itself, its people, and the world.

  5. elambend says:

    And this suggests just how brittle the internal system is perceived to be by its players. One could establish a systempunkt-style diplomacy around such an insight. Say, consistently praising the progress of the people of China, now that the party has allowed them to prosper and other such half-slights. It also shows that information as a weapon is very viable.

  6. I don’t think China’s behavior implies a factional leadership so much as a desire to keep up appearances with the population as a whole, as others have noted. It works, too- Chinese classmates of mine here at Columbia U all take the government’s position in respect to Liu Xiaobo and believe that his Nobel Prize was nothing more than an attempt to embarrass China.

  7. Wataru says:

    Rather than seeing them as brainwashed, I see those Chinese classmates as reacting like citizens of any nation would to such outside interference in its affairs. The Nobel Prize was, indeed, an attempt to embarrass China. Liu Xiaobo should not be in prison, but he is certainly not worthy of a peace prize.

  8. tdaxp says:

    I like Lex’s comment.

    For whatever reason China is clearly in its ‘Bush-Cheney’ years. While objectively the behavior has changed very little, everything ends up coming across as wrong… It will be interesting to see how this develops.