I had meant to talk in my last blog (20 March) about US – China relations, following the much hyped-about virtual meeting last Friday night with the media of both sides making separate and different headlines afterwards. But I veered off to talk about something else, which is not unusual, and which is what blogs are for or about.
Let me begin with a direct quote from China’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian speaking on 18 March in response to an AFP reporter’s repeated questions on China’s response to civilian casualties in Ukraine. He said, “I have answered many questions about civilians in recent days. Of course, China is saddened by civilian casualties. There is no point in badgering us on this question. I also have a question for you. As a journalist working with AFP, a mainstream media and news agency in Europe, you need to think about the following questions. As the culprit of the Ukraine crisis, why does the US keep smearing China instead of reflecting on the security predicament in Europe caused by the eastward expansion of US-led NATO? Why doesn’t the US listen to the observation by Dr. Kissinger and other experts that Ukraine must not be either side’s outpost against the other? Why doesn’t the US reflect on its hypocritical move of watching the fire from across the river after fanning the flames? I am not sure if it occurred to the Europeans that the US was fully capable of pushing for NATO’s eastward expansion but sent no troops to support the Ukrainian people. Did you forget that the US was among the first to evacuate civilians and diplomatic personnel from Ukraine? Have you ever imagined that the US would never send a single soldier to fight and die for Ukraine? You are associated with a media outlet from Europe. Did you ever think about why has Europe become a battlefield and a wrestling ground of major-country rivalry? Why has Ukraine become a pawn to be sacrificed in major-country rivalry? Maybe our friends from major European media outlets should also raise these questions to the US. The last thing the US should do is to sling mud at China which is not a party directly concerned. The despicable move of the US only serves to reveal its guilty conscience and true intention to shift the blame and profit from the Ukraine crisis.”
Of course, one can’t expect to find such detailed reports on US-backed or controlled media, which would typically only play up the US viewpoints, as in the case of reports on the virtual meeting between the two presidents last Friday. The US media reported what President Biden had told or warned President Xi of consequences for any support China would provide Russia, and were generally long on the conflicts in Ukraine. On the other hand, reports from China dwelled on Xi’s appeal for cooperation to end war in Ukraine and gave more detailed coverage on the Taiwan issue, stressing that if that was not handled properly, it would have a subversive – or sometimes described as destructive – impact on the bilateral relationship. In short, the US view is that China should take action to halt the Russian advances in Ukraine, while China holds some people in the United States responsible for sending wrong signals to the “Taiwan independence” forces, which Xi described as dangerous. My reading is that “subversion impact” was coined in that context.
It is clear that people’s views on US-China relations are divergent and polarized, between nations and within cities. SCMP columnist Alex Lo last week put these views in two opposing categories or camps, headed by two heavyweight opinion formers or thinkers. On one side is Francis Fukuyama (b. 1952), American political scientist, political economist and writer, best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Fukuyama had argued that progression of human history had largely reached the end with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He predicted that the world would rest on liberal democracy, exemplified in and by the US. In the context of recent conflicts and the rise of China, he predicted that Putin would lose the war and go into oblivion and that China would never be a match of the United States.
On the other side of the ring is Pankaj Mishra (b. 1969), Indian essayist and novelist, and a recipient of the 2014 Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction. Mishra’s The Romantics (2000) which is an ironic tale of people longing for fulfillment in cultures other than their own, was published in 11 European languages and had won him more prizes. His latest novel Run and Hide (2022) has had a positive reception with The Scotsman hailing it as a rich and enjoyable novel of our time, with intellect, memory and imagination, and as a novel built to last. According to Alex Lo, Mishra dismisses the political views of Fukuyama as “rhetoric, usually intoned by men who lived through the heady last days of the Cold War.” Such views, he said, are dangerous, as they “could yet again make Western countries misread the world and their power to shape it.”
Alex Lo ended by asking readers whose side they are on and volunteered that he was with Mishra. I too would like to see him win, but I hasten to add that my views won’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I believe Fukuyama has a huge following in the West and certainly in the US. The images of Tiananmen and the fall of the Belin Wall in 1989 followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 have left strong and indelible messages on the minds of many people; and such views are further reinforced by the media over the years. Take the June 4th incident on which occasion many people of my vintage would recall what happened or what they heard and thought happened, and as many young people who had yet to be born then seemed to have develop a view on what happened, rightly or wrongly. Most of us were saddened; but most of us have lived on. I have lived on. And most important of all, China has moved on and most of the 1.4 billon people in China have moved on. History will eventually tell a story; and histories are traditionally recorded by the victors.
My views on the United States are formed over the years. I first visited the country in 1976 on a tourist visa without a passport as such. I travelled then on my Certificate of Identity (CI) which was a funny document which many passport officers in foreign countries routinely ridiculed. I was on my first honeymoon after I married Rosita whose elder brother and sister were already settled as citizens with their respective families. I formed rather definitive opinions on the country afterwards. I liked the big cities, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles; I liked their super or hyper markets and restaurants; I had enjoyed their BART; and I liked Disneyland, Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe and many other attractions. But I didn’t think I would enjoy living in the country. I still don’t.
I would stop here; and pick up the strand later, I hope.