Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"China experts" are "kind of morons", US Ambassador

Any visit to China by an American president is sure to stir up some controversy. Obama has already "broken ground", as the Washington Post put it, by mentioning Internet censorship and the Dalai Lama. However, it's unclear if anything was really achieved beyond all the rhetoric of both leaders claiming they will work together. The value of the yuan remains a hot potato, at least as far as Hu Jintao is concerned. Further pressure on Iran's nuclear ambitions are unlikely to come from Beijing. And despite all the hot air over climate change, nothing has been agreed ahead of talks in Copenhagen next month.

To make any comment on what China may or may not do is fraught with problems. Its leaders are rarely forthright or straightforward. The same lines often repeat themselves and there is often little room for pragmatism, diplomacy or frank discussion. Raise any criticism and the line "hurt the feelings of all Chinese people" will often be heard spilling from the likes of ministry spokesman Qin Gang. Attempt to discuss issues like Tibet and there will be many reiterated phrases. One often quoted is that Tibet is an "inalienable part of China". In reference to any positive reporting or meeting with the Dalai Lama, the phrase "China resolutely opposes ..." will be bandied about.

There are of course the "anti-China western forces" that are part of a supposed conspiracy to split Tibet from China. And there is the continuing meddling in "China's interests" or "internal affairs". To speak of such things may show a certain knowledge about China, but it may well be dangerous, or foolish to say one is "an expert".

But conversely, to say there is no such thing as a China expert may too prove controversial. The new American diplomat to China had some fairly undiplomatic things to say about expertise in the field of Chinese relations with the United States when he spoke to reporters recently. "Don't mistake me for being an expert, because I've been here for three months,'' US Ambassador Jon Huntsman said. The former Republican governor of Utah has some expertise in foreign affairs and also speaks Mandarin. However he insisted that there was no such thing as a so-called China expert. "I've come to the conclusion that 'China expert' is kind of an oxymoron,'' Huntsman told reporters at a press briefing in Beijing. "And those who consider themselves to be China experts are kind of morons."

Of course his comments have been quickly snapped up by those in the blogosphere and the Twittersphere. No doubt China will say the feelings of Chinese people have been hurt, once again. That China resolutely opposes such comments from anti-China (expert) western forces and that experts are an inalienable part of Chinese society. But who are we to judge after all we are not experts.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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