China Can't Afford to Be Too Gloating

The Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor Peter Hartcher notes the Chinese response to America’s debt crisis, and warns that it may be in Beijing’s interests to rein in the glee.

“There’s a real difference between the Chinese domestic propaganda and the foreign propaganda on this,” observes a sinologist from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, Anne-Marie Brady. “The tone it’s adopting towards the US in English is, ‘We’re telling off America.’ In Chinese, it is much more crowing and gloating ….”

“It’s probably pretty hard for the Chinese to resist the temptation to gloat,” White says, “but from the US point of view, this would confirm US anxieties about China.

“China wants to end up on top,” White suggests, “but the secret is to exercise great patience. This tells the US that China is out to get them. Nothing would galvanise the US to get its act together better than the sense that China is out to eat their lunch. Strategically, gloating is unwise.”

Finally, Beijing’s critiques of the US include several admonitions for America to solve the structural problem of its deficits and to end its reliance on “the deep pockets of major surplus countries”. Chief among these, of course, is China.

This raises the question of China’s role – because China is the yin to America’s yang, the surplus to its deficits.

The Economist’s Banyan blog noted another reason for China to contain itself earlier this month:

Xinhua raised … two succinct questions: “How can Washington shake off electoral politics and get difficult jobs done more efficiently? And how can US politicians improve their mindset so that they will care at least a bit more about the rest of the world when handling domestic affairs with global reverberations?”

But the first of these questions also helps explain why it is hard for even the most nationalist Chinese commentators to go to town at the moment about the superiority of the “Beijing model”. One of its supposed advantages is precisely that it “gets difficult jobs done more efficiently”. And one example often pointed to as a source of wonder and pride is the rapid development of a world-beating high-speed rail system.

That is why this disaster seems to have provoked even more outrage than previous scandals—such as those in 2008 over the shoddy building that made schools especially vulnerable to the Sichuan earthquake and the revelation that some baby-formula was tainted with .

Both involved presumed corruption and official connivance. But neither undermined a central pillar of the party’s and government’s own claimed achievements.

See also China Tells U.S. It Must ‘Cure Its Addiction to Debt’ and China Official Media: U.S. Woes Threaten Global Recovery, via CDT.