Why China Isn’t Freaking Out
Image Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

Why China Isn’t Freaking Out


Writing in Foreign Policy, Daniel Drezner recently drew attention to an ostensibly sharp contrast in rhetoric coming out of Moscow and Beijing these days. He wonders why the Kremlin would intensify its criticism of the United States when it enjoys the benefits (some might say concessions) of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy. Meanwhile, China, the implicit target of the administration’s Asia “pivot,” seems to be adopting a much less confrontational posture.

Drezner’s observation, however, is only a snapshot in time. It’s much more useful to explore Russian and Chinese reactions to U.S. policy over the entirety of the Obama administration. Russia’s level of “freak out” (to use Drezner’s term) has been fairly consistent during this period, although there’s arguably been a small spike in recent months.

Soon after the inception of the so-called “reset,” the Kremlin was publicly threatening to deploy short-range ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad exclave – which it may follow through on this spring – and to withdraw from a yet to be ratified New START in the absence of a U.S. commitment to scale down its missile defense plans in Europe.

Similarly, China’s rhetoric was much more bombastic earlier in the administration, and hasn’t been nearly as consistent as Drezner suggests. Xi Jinping may be responding to the U.S. with “aplomb,” but state-controlled media has often adopted a more strident tone. Following the new U.S. defense guidelines, for example, a Global Times editorial asserted in typically hawkish fashion that “China should unite with all possible forces and keep certain strategic initiatives against the U.S.” in order to combat attempts to “contain” China.

An editorial from last November explained  that “some hostility from the outside cannot be dissolved by our good will. We must develop our own strength to break their wild ambition of ‘taking China down.’” China’s reaction to the “pivot,” while calmer than one might have expected, is also more complicated than it appears at first glance. Beijing perhaps wishes to evince both calm and strength; it’s not panicking, nor will it roll over in the face of American resolve.

When it comes to the present disparity in Russian and Chinese rhetoric, Drezner is far too dismissive of Russia’s relative decline. Moscow compensates for its inability to keep pace with competitors by creating the illusion of power through aggressive language.

Moreover,derzhavnichestvo – or great power ideology – is thoroughly embraced by the country’s political elites. The perpetuation of this idea is important for two reasons: it resonates with a large segment of the population and is therefore valuable for propping up the regime’s legitimacy; and it allows Russia’s powerful defense establishment to justify constant budget increases and the procurement of power projection capabilities commensurate with the country’s supposed status as a global player. The latter is particularly important for Russia’s struggling arms industry.

It’s also a mistake to imply that Russia and China face similar unrest at home. Although demonstrations in China may be indicative of larger, systemic problems, they have thus far been limited to specific, localized issues, such as land seizures or village corruption. And rather than rail against the central government, protesters are often looking to Beijing for help. The roots of Russia’s dissent, however, run much deeper. These protests are founded on broader frustration with the rigidity of the country’s “managed democracy.” Anger about Putin’s brazen decision to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev and Russia’s rigged parliamentary election, coupled with the lingering consequences of the financial crisis, converged in a perfect storm last month that has shaken the regime to its core. The unease associated with these events, and the Kremlin’s traditional tendency to deflect domestic challenges by attacking the U.S./NATO, shouldn’t be overlooked. At least until recently, China hasn’t felt a similar need to do so – the localized nature of the Wukan-style protests that Drezner cites makes it easier for Beijing to step in and resolve the problems, even if only superficially.

February 6, 2012 at 17:03

Every year, China and the United States engage in an elaborate dance. The President meets the Dalai Lama and prepares to sell arms to Taiwan, and China gets angry. Then Congress gets angry that China is stealing jobs and is playing with its currency. It’s almost seasonal, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if China and the US are numb to each other’s criticisms.

Mei Hwa
February 4, 2012 at 15:42

Mike, America is surely runned by more than just incompetent buffoons. You should add in the elements of ego, supremacist attitude, and fear of being overtaken by a third rate “egomaniacal authoritarian regime”.

February 4, 2012 at 07:43

@Fu Man-chu. Agreed. The Diplomat website, despite its usual sugar-coated or disguised critical analysis and language, is just another venue to fool readers who tend to believe in western propaganda. The Diplomat writers are doing the jobs they are paid and asked to do! Asia Times Online has provided more wisdom and reality information to its readers.

Fortunately, many peoples and nations in the world today are no longer naive of the U.S. and western imperialist intent. The world has seen enough of wars and destructions, but unfortunately, those are embedded in the DNA of western military planners and politicians.

Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time when the greed and immorality of the U.S. evil forces will collapse on its own weight and dose under natural laws. We are now actually witnessing how the collapse is gradually unfolded and USA’s crawling back to its own place happen more quickly in our life time. God bless.

February 4, 2012 at 01:37

It’s not only Russia or China who is critical of U.S

The whole world except the white men countries, are cursing the regime U.S

Fu Man-chu
February 3, 2012 at 18:07

Reading Michael Mazza’s piece gives me the impression of a “Emperor’s new clothes”, and “The Boy who cried wolf”.

Flattery will get the writer or Washington no where. I doubt if Beijing is that naive any more. And America’s credibility no matter how Michael Mazza spin it, is no more in the eyes of the guys at ZhongNanHai.

I find the article a joke in many instances and had a good laugh. Imagine, trying to speak on behalf Beijing leaders where he has no authority and writing with blinkered glasses.

In short, a manipulative piece to encourage leaders to continue “more of the same” – Be dumb, foolish, and allow Washington to knock you around and rebuke you publicly, threaten you, and manipulate you like a sheep, because you are not cerebral enough to see the issues and the reality of Washington’s contradictory words and actions, and being able therefore to rebut incisively while possessing the courage like Mr Putin, to threaten Washington as a response when the need arise.

This kind of manipulative pieces makes me want to compare the Diplomat with The Asian Times which has contributions from truly professional and intellectual personas such as retired ambassadors. One learns much more from their erudite analysis and dissections of current world affairs unlike the aritcle here, the majority of which is meant to manipulate public opinions to favor Washington’s policies and American interests whether right or wrong or fanciful. The Diplomat is just too political although I note a slight improvement of late. Slight I say ..

Mike From Tampa
February 3, 2012 at 02:44

Both Russia and China are second and third rate authoritarian nations run by egomaniacs. US is just run by incompetent buffoons. It will be an interesting competition.

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