By David Bandurski — The 2009 Group of 20 summit concluded in London earlier this month, but debate continues in China’s media over whether and how the summit reflected China’s changing role in the world. Many news articles and editorials in China played up the country’s role and reception in London. But some in China have expressed concern that China’s reach has become greater than its grasp.
The discussion surrounding the G20 summit is also part of a more extended debate over China’s role and identity in the world, which has also centered recently around Unhappy China, a controversial new book arguing for a more robust role for China in international affairs.
[ABOVE: Xinhua News Agency coverage online of the G20 summit. Where does China stand?]
In the following editorial, published in Wuhan’s Changjiang News yesterday and re-run widely at major Chinese Web portals, journalist Ding Gang points to a gap in perceptions of China’s role at the recent summit and suggests China should be more cautious in making noise domestically about its preeminence globally.
“Does China Stand at the Center of the World Stage?“
By Ding Gang (丁刚)
April 14, 2009
The curtain has gone down on the G20 Summit, and China’s “showing” has made a deep impression on people across the world. As an emerging force, China plays a vital role in this globalized age of ours. But saying on this basis that China “stands at the center of the world stage,” that “China has risen in the ranks of world leadership,” or that an elevation of China’s role has “overturned American-European dominance” is, I’m afraid, a bit premature.
In recent days I have met a couple of [Chinese] reporters who just returned from covering [the summit] in London, and based on their experience the attention China received fell far short of that loudly exclaimed by China’s own media, and this was very different from the sense they had upon leaving China [for London]. I hear that one Chinese reporter in London nudged in a question at a news conference: “How much money does China plan to donate to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?” he asked.
Clearly, in this reporter’s question one can sense a fullness of pride and eagerness. But unfortunately he hasn’t gotten the most rudimentary facts straight. First of all, China was deciding only whether to buy IMF bonds, not whether to donate funds. Secondly, how many bonds China buys is entirely a question of its “purchasing power,” and compared to other developed nations China is not a strong “buyer.”
There can be little doubt that at this summit meeting it was still U.S. President [Barack] Obama who drew the most attention, and the topic most discussed were various conflicts over how Europe and the U.S. should carry out reforms and rescue the markets. French President Sarkozy also managed to steal away some attention, principally because of his public relations finesse in going up against Britain and the U.S. ahead of the summit. Generally speaking, the degree of attention paid by the global media to various participants in the summit was commensurate with the position of these participants internationally.
This makes me think of a survey released not long ago by a well-known global market research firm. In this survey, 92 percent of respondents in China believed that “China plays an active role in the world.” Only 39 percent of respondents in the 20 other countries surveyed held the same view [of China]. America’s Washington Post remarked on this note that, “China is overly optimistic about its own image.”
The Washington Post‘s conclusion was far too subjective. Because the cause of Chinese people’s understanding of China’s role was not a surplus of optimism, but rather a different “standard.” What foreigners look at is how much China has paid out internationally, how much responsibility it has taken up, and what sort of values it has provided that resonate with others; Most Chinese, on the other hand, believe that if you handle your own business well, that is the best way to prove useful. The gap between these two [understandings] suggests that China does not right now have the actual strength to stand center stage globally, nor has it prepared itself psychologically on this account.
Actually, rights and responsibilities go hand in hand in the international system. If we are not psychologically or materially prepared and have neither the ability or the inclination to take on more responsibility, but still we give ourselves high-pitched praise for China’s role, this will invisibly raise the expectations of the international community toward China and ultimately expose a gap between our words and our actions.
Judging from China’s current level of development, we can say that we have just walked from the audience onto the stage, but we are far from being the principal performer. I’m afraid that China’s road to center stage is still a long one. We cannot underestimate ourselves, but no good can come either from overestimating ourselves — that would only make us incurably unhappy.
The following Web postings appear after the above editorial at QQ.com.
From Beijing: Chinese have too high an opinion of themselves. This is the ugly result of media propaganda.
From Nanning: The Chinese people are standing at the center of the world stage, it’s just that white people don’t want to admit it. Chinese people don’t want to pull out money to fix problems that white people created in the first place . . . Honestly, if it were me, I wouldn’t want to help them solve problems either. I would just fix the problems of the Third World and make white people feel bitter.
From Urumqi: Our grade school children need to study up on the saying, “Every dog is a lion at home.” [An idiom about extreme arrogance]
From Wenzhou: China is so lacking in people of ability, we fall way behind in youth education, we face various problems, including societal problems, that are serious and vexing — at this time we need to keep our heads clear. There is no need for pessimism. Nor is there any cause for extreme arrogance.
From Loudi: Who cares what others think about us. The important thing is that we keep getting stronger.
From Xi’an: We need to be small on enemy talk and big on action.
From Huizhou: Those hot-headed people who think China is so developed and so powerful need to wake up and go to the countryside that accounts for most of our population and land mass. The vast majority of people there subsist [not live] in a poor state. Can our country call itself great? Stop dreaming and take some real action. The important thing is whether we can ensure that our own people can buy homes, seek medical care or get an education.
All of these achievements belong to the media of our great Motherland. Is the nightly newscast on CCTV even watchable these days? Aside from the empty boasting, all you can hear are songs of praise.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 15, 2009, 12:55pm HK]