China Power

Two Wrongs…

Double-standards and name-calling aren’t the best ways of helping understand China.

A rather odd take on the Rio Tinto verdict yesterday by the BBC’s business editor, who took the opportunity of four men being sentenced to between 7 and 14 years in jail as an opportunity to make a light-hearted analogy with Star Wars:

‘The ageing democratic western Federation, weakened by decadent excessive consumption on borrowed money, sells crown-jewel assets to a reviving eastern super-power – which imperiously demonstrates where the power in the galaxy lies by arresting and imprisoning a quartet of Federation representatives on charges of corruption.’

Aside from the fact that it seems bound to lead readers to conclude that the ‘reviving eastern super-power’ is synonymous with George Lucas’ evil empire (Yiyi Lu, in an interview with The Diplomat coming later this week, rightly points to the unhelpfulness of such reflexive labels), the piece goes on to make some frustrating (yet frustratingly common) suggestions.

For example, the writer has this insight:

‘China has made it absolutely clear that if we want to play on their manor, we play by their rules.’

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But this begs the question as to which enlightened country doesn’t expect outsiders to play by its own rules when they want to do business? One can disagree with these rules, and even decide to opt out as Google (quite rightly but belatedly) did. But the common inference that China is somehow acting in a sinister way simply by deciding to enforce its own rules or acting in its own interests is an odd double-standard.

This by no means meant to suggest that there aren’t some troubling elements to this case, not least the lack of transparency (that not even the unusual step of opening the verdict to the media can reassure on) and the failure to allow full access by consular officials to all stages of the trial.

But the tendency by some Western commentators to throw their own veil of mystery over every decision China does little to encourage understanding of a complex country. Standing up for beliefs is to be applauded. Evil empire inferences are silly and unhelpful.