Uppity China

He started it!  I was just minding my own business when out of the blue he looked at me funny.  So I had to clock him. (bullies everywhere)

A month ago I reported:

I hear a lot of China bashing these days.  To check, I surveyed the last ten China new articles in the Post and NYT. … Yup, top US newspapers are in full fledged China bashing mode.

Today’s top article at WashingtonPost.com is “China’s strident tone raises concerns”:

China’s indignant reaction to the announcement of U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan appears to be in keeping with a new triumphalist attitude from Beijing that is worrying governments and analysts across the globe.  From the Copenhagen climate change conference to Internet freedom to China’s border with India, China observers have noticed a tough tone emanating from its government. …

“The Chinese find with startling speed that people have come to view them as a major global player. And that has fed a sense of confidence.”  Lieberthal said another factor in China’s new tone is a sense that after two centuries of exploitation by the West, China is resuming its role as one of the great nations of the world.

This new posture has befuddled Western officials and analysts. … Analysts say a combination of hubris and insecurity appears to be driving China’s mood. … What happens next will be crucial. China quietly sanctioned several U.S. companies for participating in such weapons sales in the past. However, it would mark a major change if China makes the list public.

So Western analysts are befuddled that China is surprising uppity – analyst explanations and remedies center on Chinese psychology and actions; surely nothing the West has done could be part of the explanation.  “We were just standing here minding our own business when they just went all crazy …”

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  • Bill

    All of this newspaper stuff implies that China is a person–someone is uppity, etc. (By the way, I don’t agree with the characterization as uppity–I would argue it is publicly assertive on issues that are closer to them than to us.)

    But, would you rather have people be assertive by rearmament, millitary exercises, etc. rather than by voice.

    I prefer voice warfare; less costly and less wasteful of resources for both of us.

    Encourage press warfare. No one pays attention anyway or the material that is sent out in the press is for domestic consumption, not foreign consumption anyway. Know who is the intended audience before you get fooled with personifying a country–either us or them–as “speaking”.

  • James Daniel Miller

    Mao was Hitler level evil, and the Chinese people are still taught to respect his memory.

    So a better opening quote would have been:

    “The man who used to be a sociopathic-mass murderer started it. I was just minding my own business when out of the blue he looked at me funny. So I had to clock him.”

    Of course, this makes it even less reasonable for us to be surprised that China is “uppity.”

    • William

      The Hitler comparison is apt here, Godwin notwithstanding. The US is selling defense equipment to a longstanding ally and trading partner, and a country that is an immediate threat to that ally is posturing and making very clear threats. As we have learned from the 1938 Munich treatment, appeasement of a powerful authoritarian aggressor is rarely good policy. The tone of US newspapers is unsurprising even apart from the usual obligatory US patriotism.

      • Joe Unlie

        Not quite. That’s what it looks like on the surface, but knowing what I do about the way the boys in Beijing operate, this is a storm in a teacup.

        China doesn’t want to go to war with Taiwan, because a war with Taiwan would lead to the biggest “international system cascade failure” we’ve seen since the outbreak of World War I. To that end, the current Taiwanese KMT government needs to remain in power, look strong, and maintain enough credibility to prevent Taiwan from voting for full independence from the mainland. Ma Ying-Jeou has currently been on rather shaky ground from moving too quickly for rapproachment with the mainland (despite the fact that everything he’s done to date has generally involved giving Taiwan all the benefits of being “part of China” without the loss of sovereignty); he needs to look strong to opponents of reunification in order to keep the KMT dominant. Buying more arms from the US does this.

        China will send the usual letter of complaint through the usual diplomatic channels; they will be ignored by everyone- and behind the closed doors of Zhongnanhai, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will light their cigarettes and breathe sighs of relief that the Taiwan disaster has been averted for another few years- because they don’t want it either.

        (What, you say that they simply don’t have to go to war with Taiwan? They are dictators, right? They call the shots, don’t they? Well, not quite. But that’s a lecture for another day…)

  • Kip Werking

    Roy Baumeister has a study showing that harmers appear to understand their motivations much, much better than victims. To victims, the harmers’ actions just seem to come out of nowhere. Personally, I suspect the following explanation for this phenomenon: we evolved an empathy-shutdown for harmers. I think Roy’s finding is one of the five most important findings in social psychology.

    Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. & Wotman, S. R. (1990). Victim and perpetrator accounts of interpersonal conflict: Autobiographical narratives about anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 994-1005

    • Alpheus

      Is it possible that people for whom others lack empathy (for whatever reason) disproportionately tend to become harmers?

      • Kip Werking

        That is certainly possible. I have no idea of whether it is true.

        I prefer my pet hypothesis: that we evolved to stop empathizing with people who harm others (perhaps because empathizing with them somehow prevented us from better defending ourselves from these harmers, or managing communities that include harmers).

  • Millian

    I don’t know what exactly Robin means by “Western” opinion. We don’t have China-bashing in Europe the way you do in America, probably because we don’t feel so threatened in our position in the world.

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      From Deutche Welle:

      Instead, on the heels of the failure of the Copenhagen conference, at which China, seemingly intent on becoming a new blockade power, did its best to play the spoiler, the mood in the old industrialized countries could take a turn for the worse.

      From France 24:

      China intensified its clampdown on local and foreign media last year with reporters facing violence, censorship and arbitrary detention, according to a report by an international press watchdog.

      These articles were literally the first articles that I found mentioning China on these sites. That’s not proof that China-bashing is common, but it’s strongly indicative.

      • dave

        How is that bashing? Right or wrong, did the Chinese not slam on the brakes at Copenhagen?
        Is France 24’s report factually incorrect?
        If you consider factually accurate reporting “bashing” you need to go back to school.

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        Thanks Tyrrell for doing some digging.

        dave, you could easily and clearly insult a friend of yours by suddenly and loudly listing everything negative you can think of about them. Each thing you said might be true, but your choice to say them loudly, without also mentioning the good things you know, would show you were “bashing” them.

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  • Nanonymous

    This new posture has befuddled Western officials and analysts

    Only because they are terminally stupid. The moment Western companies, in search of higher profits, went en mass to China to make it a modern industrialized country, it was 100% predictable. We reap what we sow.

    • Pacer

      Right on the money. Exactly what did we expect would happen, awakening over 1 billion capitalist competitors for jobs and material? Of all Nixon’s follies this one has to be the most boneheaded.

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  • http://www.viewsflow.com David Smith

    China went through a period of mass insanity in the 60s. Now it induces mass insanity in America. Some of the commenters on this blog furnish the proof but so, in more measured terms, do the “analysts” who think China has been anything other than consistent on Taiwan and other sovereignty issues.

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  • jonathan

    I just noticed this. Sorry to be late to the party.

    China bashing now tends to conflate two threads: freedom and money. The freedom stuff we know well, but we put that together with a combination of fear and envy and other emotions over trade and the value of the Yuan and China’s holdings of dollars. The US approach is generally that China must raise the value of the yuan / RMB and thus alter their trade policy away from massive export. The Chinese response is generally that they are still poor and the US has a number of problems that it brought on itself, notably the failure of US regulations and US markets to understand, price and control the risk of financial catastrophe. The Chinese literally don’t understand why they are blamed when their holdings of dollars are an immense help to the US’ ability to finance itself. They do understand that they export vast amounts but they also know that US buyers consume those exports and that the lower prices and continuously higher quality is a benefit. The Chinese feel that the US – which every year has been making more not less – is responsible for its own propensity to consume and that they are selling to fit needs, not creating them.

    The US fears China. The US fears Chinese holdings of dollars – without recognizing that the Chinese are tied to the US because of those holdings and that the Chinese don’t want to lose hundreds of billions on them. The US is unable to understand that it’s choices have put it in its current position – and you certainly won’t get that understanding from the GOP, which is now resisting regulation because they feel an anti-government stance of any kind is the best way to get votes. The GOP is also arguing for tax cuts, something which the Chinese must marvel at because those tax cuts are why the US is in such terrible fiscal shape (see the cbbp.org charts on the makeup of the deficit).

    • Pacer

      Loaning the U.S. money (at interest) so that they can continue to profit on exports to the U.S. and erode our manufacturing base. And so our politicians can put off a needed fiscal reckoning, allowing the inevitable to grow to catastrophic proportions. Yep, that sounds like China is just trying to help…

      A more apt metaphor is the vampire who gives his victim CPR to keep the blood flowing out of the wound. That being said, on the economic stuff, we’ve mostly done it to ourselves. China just seized the opportunity to play a long winning game against an ADHD-affilicted opponent.

      And how about them cyber attacks on our infrastructure?