Fu Ying Spiegel Interview: “The West Has Become Very Conceited”

BEIJING, 8/17/2011 : China's vice -foreign minster, Mme Fuying, during an interview in the Foreign Ministry.

DeWang at Hidden Harmonies brought to my attention this recent interview by German publication Spiegel with Fu Ying, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. I initially planned on sharing my response to the interview as a comment on Hidden Harmonies but, given its anticipated length, decided to make it into a separate post here. Oh boy.

So, let’s see…

First off, do feel free to read the entirety of the interview on Spiegel before diving into my quote-and-comments below. Let me know if you get the feeling the interview was conducted over email as the lack of build up to rather pointed questions (which I felt Fu Ying handled quite gracefully in some responses) was something that stood out to me.

Here goes:

SPIEGEL: Madame Fu Ying, few countries are more interesting to the West right now than China — and few others alarm the West to the same degree, now that you have launched your first aircraft carrier. Why does China need to arm itself to this extent?

Fu Ying: The first aircraft carrier going to sea is a very exciting event in China. It’s something the Chinese people longed for. People think it’s a natural step in the growth of the Chinese military — although this so-called aircraft carrier was really just a framework of a second-hand aircraft carrier that we refitted and will only be used for scientific research and training purposes. It’s far, far from being a full-fledged aircraft carrier. In that sense, China is well behind other countries, let alone the United States which has had a mature and highly developed fleet of aircraft carriers for a long time now.

This first response is an example of what I felt was quite graceful, specifically for immediately reframing the audience in consideration from Western observers (who may be interested or alarmed) to Chinese observers. That’s good, because it changes the tone from one of “threat to others” to one of “achievement of a people”. Although it can be interpreted as being a bit “defensive” or “downplaying”, I do like the open humility that China’s current aircraft carrier was indeed a refit and is indeed far from what other countries have.

That said, I personally would’ve liked her to respond with something along the lines of “Why does any country who has armed itself to such an extent need to?” or “For the exact same reasons other countries have” and let the reader figure it out for themselves. Yeah, that’s a bit flippant (to something of a flippant question) but its also a direct and honest answer. “Our reasons are the same as what your reasons would be. What kind of stupid question is this? Do you guys really not know?”

To Fu’s credit, she actually does offer a similar response next…

SPIEGEL: Are there not more pressing areas where that money could go rather than towards increasing the military budget?

Fu Ying: A number of areas are given greater priority than the development of our defenses. The greatest emphasis is on economic development, the well-being of the people and the sharing of the wealth. My daughter’s generation is the first that never experienced hunger in this country. That is unbelievable progress. Your concern about the Chinese military appears to me to be clouded by stereotypes about China based in the Cold War thinking of the division between us ideologically. You feel comfortable with aircraft carrier ownership by your allies, like the United States and France, but you are more concerned if China also has one.

But I would’ve responded to this with a “See previous response”.

Joking aside (maybe), I like how Fu handled this initially. Yes, trite talking points, but a good response nonetheless. I would’ve left out the “That is unbelievable progress” part but maybe that’s just me, as I think that sounds a bit too self-congratulatory and no one really likes hearing someone praise themselves.

I don’t like the second part of Fu’s response however, mainly because it takes an accusatory tone when she could’ve done so without one. This accusatory tone puts the non-Chinese reader immediately into a defensive posture when it is critical to keep them receptive to questioning their own biases for who ought to have an aircraft carrier and who ought not.

That said, another response to this specific question could be: “Like every other country, we have multiple priorities competing for a limited amount of resources. We cannot avoid making certain compromises and while we try to make the most reasonable compromises in the allocation of our resources, we also understand we naturally must accept the consequences of our compromises. In other words, we can hold more than one thought in our heads. Next.”

A vessel reported to be the Ukrainian-made aircraft carrier "Varyag", which China bought in the 1990s, is seen at a port in Dalian, Liaoning province in this April 17, 2011 file photo. China's first aircraft carrier "Varyag" held its first sea trial on August 10, 2011 morning, in a step likely to stoke patriotic pride at home and jitters abroad about Beijing's naval ambitions. The long-awaited debut of the carrier, refitted from a former Soviet craft, marked an initial step towards China's plans to build a carrier force that can project power into the Asian region, where seas are spanned by busy shipping lanes and thorny territorial disputes.  REUTERS/Stringer/Files (CHINA - Tags: MILITARY MARITIME) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

SPIEGEL: How far will China go in terms of defending its interests? In the dispute over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, the tone can at times be quite sharp.

Fu Ying: We, too, are wondering why there is such strong rhetoric, since the countries involved are already engaged in dialogues on the basis of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. But this is a dispute of words, and what matters is that the shipping traffic in the South China Sea remains peaceful and there is no war or conflict going on.

SPIEGEL: The Americans clearly have doubts about your intentions. Pakistan is believed to have provided China with access to the wreckage of the high-tech US helicopter that crashed during the operation against Osama bin Laden. Are you in a position to confirm whether this is true?

Fu Ying: Both China and Pakistan have denied this rumor. I think the most important thing is the question of whether China and the US are enemies. Are we going to be in a war? Are we preparing for a war against each other? We certainly don’t see it that way. It is not very friendly that the US maintains a weapons embargo against China. We have no intention to threaten the US, and we don’t see the US as a threat to us. The West tends to place China in the framework of the Cold War. This puzzles China a lot.

One major thing I really disagree with Fu on and consider annoyingly disingenuous is the whole “This puzzles China a lot” response to these questions of “strong rhetoric” and the “Cold War framework”. The Chinese government is not that stupid. It understands politics and I wish they wouldn’t play stupid on this. Both sides know very well how and, more importantly, why the other side sees it the way it does. I think openly acknowledging such and arguing to overcome it is better than pretending to be baffled by it. The latter is a weak victim-card play that doesn’t actually improve the situation and just perpetuates it for at most some nodding heads from one’s existing base of nationalists. We don’t need those nods, we need nods from the other side because only when the other side starts nodding with us do we reach common ground and mutual understanding.

SPIEGEL: Many Germans, while respecting China’s development, see your country more as a rival than a partner. Is that something that you can understand?

Fu Ying: I’m grateful you raised that point because it is something that has been on my mind for a long time. If you fundamentally accept that China’s growth has lifted countless people in the country out of poverty, then you also have to agree that China has done things right. One must also accept that there can be a different political system. The countries in the West think they have the only system that works and they have narrowed down “democracy” to a multi-party election system, which works well for some countries, most of the time, but as we are now seeing with the latest financial crisis, they sometimes experience difficulties too. The West has become very conceited. At the end of the day, democracy alone cannot put food on the table. That’s the reality.

Likewise, I don’t like her answer to Spiegel here asking if she can understand why Germans see China as a rival. She instead changes the topic to rattle off a few tired talking points and avoids answering it, granted like many politicians do when faced with a question they don’t want to address. My personal opinion is that I don’t see why this question is to be avoided and I think the obvious way in which she avoided answering only hurts the receptiveness to what she has to say, as well as how people see China. Who can read that and not immediately think “Spiegel didn’t ask about whether or not China has done certain things right or whether or not democracy has its faults, it asked if you or the Chinese people can understand why Germans see the Chinese as rivals!”

And how bad would it really be to say: “Yes, absolutely, just as we naturally see you as rivals as well! That’s the nature of competition and capitalism! We totally look up to Germans in areas of so and so and yearn to able to reach your levels of expertise and excellence in so and so one day”? And the key thing is that’s all true, honest, and something both German and Chinese and international readers can easily identify with, relate to, and accept. “OF COURSE the Chinese understand! But let’s be rivals in good ways, ways that push us both to become better, and partners in the things where we need to be partners in.”

Save the criticisms of a conceited West for a more relevant question. There were better places to bring it up in several pointed questions before and after. It was a mistake to waste this opportunity to give an honest answer that would actually resonate with the audience in positive depolarizing common-groundbreaking way.

SPIEGEL: China’s decision-making process appears to be shielded with black box secrecy, and even long-time observers are puzzled over how political decisions are taken. Does it really come as a surprise to you that many are wary of China’s intentions?

Fu Ying: China’s political system is a product of China’s history. It is based on the country’s own culture and is subject to a constant reform process, which includes the building up of democratic decision-making processes in China. In order to make the right decisions, you have to listen to the people and their criticism. No government can survive if it loses touch with the people and reality. And we have a very critical view of ourselves.

I like Fu Ying’s response to this following question about the black box of Chinese politics. I’ve said “pointed” before, but this question actually just comes off as slightly obnoxious to me with the “Does it really come as a surprise to you”. However, maybe it isn’t fair to say it is obnoxious when it may be a result of Chinese politicians playing stupid and saying how puzzled they are by how other countries see China. If you’re going to feign surprise by how other countries react, then you can’t really blame them for then responding with “are you really surprised?”

Nevertheless, I liked her response even though it too can be characterized as just the usual talking points. The main reason is because while it avoids the question, it does at least address the premise to the question, and it openly puts on record that China’s government must listen to its people and their criticisms. I firmly believe that the more the Chinese government promotes this message itself, the more it will ultimately hold itself accountable to it. I know not a lot of people are exactly heartened by China’s progress in this regard and with very understandable reasons, but the day you really have to worry is the day the government no longer cares to say what it holds itself accountable to. That the Chinese government openly predicts a government’s demise when it loses touch with the people and reality gives the people the moral high ground to declare when it has. That’s a good thing, better than divine right and heavenly mandates.

SPIEGEL: The West perceives a lack of transparency and rule of law in the Chinese model.

Fu Ying: I think at the moment it is the Western governments that are having problems. We are observing what is going on in the West. We try to understand why so many governments made so many mistakes. Why do political parties make commitments they cannot fulfill? Why do they spend so much more than they have? Has the West been stagnating since the end of the Cold War? Or has it just become conceited?

There’s something odd about this section. There’s no question. It may seem like it was an interviewer’s follow-up to an interviewee’s response but the rest of the interview doesn’t suggest that sort of format. I have to wonder if Spiegel’s statement here wasn’t edited it and if Fu Ying’s response wasn’t split up into two parts by it.

But anyway, this was a terrible response by Fu Ying because it goes on the attack and thereby looks like changing the topic. Imagine how we’d look at an American politician changing to topic to China when being questioned about issues regarding the American government. This isn’t the question to point at the West’s problems and this isn’t the way to do it either without making yourself look bad. Spiegel also isn’t the forum to score points with domestic or Chinese nationalists who share your criticisms of the West.

The best answer here is acknowledgement and humility first before seeking balance. The best answer is something along the lines of: “We Chinese also agree there can be a lack of transparency and rule of law in China. That is why we are constantly trying to reform and improve our government every year with new laws trying to tackle these difficult problems in a country that remains very large and populous, which I’m sure you can understand. For example, . Of course, much work remains to be done and the sheer size of China only make such work more difficult, but we are committed to improving China on both of these issues.”

That would defuse the matter, relay the truth, and not exacerbate it into a “well, your government is shitty too!” tit-for-tat sandbox fight. Fu’s response here was horrible. There’s no end to finding faults in each other. The only end is in being the grown-up that can acknowledge faults and openly commit to working on them. That’s what the people want, both your own and those abroad. That’s what they want from their politicians and their government too. Why squander the opportunity to establish common ground in an international forum like Spiegel?

SPIEGEL: Democracies are very complicated, and compared to tightly ruled systems, they are at a disadvantage. Do you feel superior?

Fu Ying: Superiority is the not the word we use. The Chinese are very modest. We respect your success and we learn from you. You are in the post-industrialized era. Many of the problems you encounter might occur in China later. So we want to see how you address those problems, and if we can learn from you.

Maybe I should recharacterize “pointed questions” to “maybe Germans are just blunt (or efficiently direct)”.

Fu’s response here is great. Right off the bat, it discards the “superiority” issue and acknowledges the success of democracies and that there are things to learn from democracies. But the problem unfortunately is that all of the modesty here is sabotaged by the previous attacks.

Part 2 of the Spiegel interview with Fu Ying discusses Ai Weiwei and the Dalai Lama. I note that the questions and answers in this section look more like a real back and forth interview than an list-of-questions asynchronously answered over email interview.

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves from the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011. Ai, detained since April, was released on bail on Wednesday, state media said, citing Beijing police. The agency, in a late evening announcement, said the artist had been freed "because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from". Ai was detained at Beijing airport on April 3, igniting an outcry about China's tightening grip on dissent, which has triggered the detention and arrest of dozens of rights activists and dissidents.    REUTERS/David Gray    (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)

SPIEGEL: The case of recently arrested artist Ai Weiwei, who is well-connected in Berlin, was seen in Germany as a provocation. Was it intentional that he was arrested shortly after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle attended the opening of an exhibition in Beijing with Chinese officials?

Fu Ying: That’s why I say you are conceited. You really take yourself very seriously. Why would a country like China decide on domestic matters and try to make them coincide with a visit by a foreign minister from a European country? I don’t see the linkage. The case you are discussing is a legal matter. I am not really interested in this case.

SPIEGEL: If it is a legal case, then why wasn’t Ai Weiwei publicly charged? Instead he disappeared for 81 days. The allegations of tax evasion don’t appear to be very convincing.

Fu Ying: If you have such great interest in this case and believe there has been a breach of law or rules in his case, you may very well raise it. We can pass it on to the authorities. But how many more Chinese artists, writers, singers and movie stars do Germans know? Your view of China is very narrow and negative, and that’s why we don’t feel comfortable discussing human rights with you. Our understanding of human rights is based on the UN Charter, which guarantees political rights, the right to life and the right to development. But in your view, human rights seem to concern only some individuals who are subverting the state or are breaching laws.

SPIEGEL: Some of these people symbolically represent hundreds of others.

Fu Ying: But please try to put things into perspective. We have 1.3 billion people living in China. Since day one of our relationship with the West, human rights have been a subject for discussion. Many issues were discussed and solved and the content keeps changing. But today the Western understanding of human rights is used as an instrument against China, regardless of the fact that China has improved very much in this area, and no matter how intensively we are working on the issue.

SPIEGEL: Can you say anything more concrete about the Ai Weiwei case?

Fu Ying: He is being investigated and he has been released after paying bail. I don’t have any further comment on him.

The interesting thing here is that some people are going to Spiegel as badgering Fu on a pet topic while others will certainly see Fu as being evasive. Both, I think, is true but very understandably so.

I like how directly Fu responds to the first question in this batch. It will seem combative and insulting that she accuses Westerners of being conceited, but I’d only beg those people to consider just how combative and insulting some of the Spiegel questions could be to her, and call it a wash. The four question exchange here is very human, I think, in that there are good points and bad points in what is said. I do however wish she could’ve responded without the bad points.

For example, a good point is explaining in very human language that some Chinese are uncomfortable discussing human rights with certain Westerners because they feel Westerners often have a very narrow and negative view of China. Another good point is directly asking for Westerners to remember to take a step back and “put things into perspective”. The follow-up of clearly stating that China has improved in human rights and are working on the issue is also good, conveying a sort of emphatic plea for extending some more understanding to China. Of course, not everyone will extend it, believing China to have had enough time or believing China to not genuinely or actually “intensively” working on the issue, but I think it strikes a chord with moderate audiences. This is the right amount of defensiveness without veering deeply into playing a victim card.

A bad point, for example, is mentioning the UN Charter. No Western audience is going to buy that, and even moderate Chinese audiences won’t either, especially if you mention political rights and maybe even the right to life. Mentioning the UN Charter and these broad “rights” just opens you up to new vectors of incredulous attack. Fu can’t possibly not know just how far the political rights Chinese actually enjoy is from those most Westerners enjoy. She also can’t possibly know how easily the right to life claim can be derailed by One Child Policy criticisms and ample examples of how cheap life can be in China especially in the hands of government officials. Therefore, simply invoking this makes Fu again look like she’s playing stupid or being disingenuous. She didn’t need to go here to make…

…her arguably valid point that some Westerners do seem to only think human rights concerns only subversion against the Chinese state. If I were Fu, however, I would have added the qualifiers I have here to carry my point without giving them the excuse to say “not me!”

SPIEGEL: As one dictator after another was chased out in the Arab world this year, critical journalists, attorneys and human rights activists in China have been experiencing a wave of repression, with some even speaking of a “Chinese Winter”. Does China fear a handful of activists?

Fu Ying: What was happening in the Middle East is an event that attracted attention all over the world. We, too, are trying to understand what led to these revolutions. As for China, I don’t see any direct linkage. Again, it’s the habit of some Western analysts to connect everything bad with China. If you think your society is strong enough to avoid infection by the Arab revolution, what makes you think that the Chinese society is so weak that it has to be infected? Eighty-seven percent of Chinese surveyed in a poll by the Pew Research Center in 2010 said the government is on the right track. In the US, however, recent polls show that a lot of people think the country is not on the right path.

LoL, it’s amusing how loaded so many of these Spiegel questions are, and I like the (rhetorical) question Fu responds with here.

The Dalai Lama listens to a question during a press conference at the Georges V Hotel in Paris, France, 13 August 2008, before meeting with French members of Parliament in the Senate, only political event during his visit to France. During the press conference the Dalai Lama stated his 'great disappointment' regarding the negotiations in progress with China, following the violent repression by China of the riots in Tibet, last March. 'The Chinese government denies the problems of Tibet and does not listen to the demands of the Tibetan people', declared the Tibetan spiritual leader. According to several members of Parliament who met him afterwards, the Dalai Lama has even remarked that China did not respect the 'Olympic truce' and continued its repression in Tibet. EPA/MAXPPP/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON FRANCE OUT --- BELGIUM OUT +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

SPIEGEL: China always shows pretty strong reactions when Western leaders meet with the Dalai Lama. You recommend that other countries should solve their disputes through dialogue. Why hasn’t China succeeded in reaching an agreement with the Tibetan spiritual leader?

Fu Ying: Our difficulty with the Dalai Lama is his political views and demands for Tibet independence. If you read his website, you will see what he wants. In essence, he wants an independent Tibet.

SPIEGEL: He has explicitly rejected that, saying he doesn’t want separation, but instead greater autonomy.

Fu Ying: Tibet is part of China. But, of course, the door to dialogue is always open. Dialogue is always welcome. I am glad more and more people are visiting Tibet, and more and more people understand life in Tibet better now.

SPIEGEL: Unfortunately, journalists are not allowed to access Tibet.

Fu Ying: There is a bit of concern about the intentions and motives of Western journalists. Sometimes it’s as if some of them come to a wedding and only want to inspect the contents of a dark corner. They want to show the world there is no smiling bride, there is no groom and no happy friends — just darkness. They write about it extensively. They may be facts, but they are very selective facts.

SPIEGEL: The Dalai Lama has officially retired from his offices. Is this not a good point in time to seek a peaceful solution?

Fu Ying: The fact that he is withdrawing from his political offices shows that he does regard himself as the king and god in one and is thus the owner of Tibet. But those days are over. Tibet is finally undergoing development, and the region truly is doing better and better. So we will see whether the Dalai Lama can relinquish himself of his political demands.

I’m not a big fan of the whole China-Tibet issue, mainly because I’ve found too many people on both sides of the issue to be obnoxiously shrill and unreasonable.

The only exchange here I find interesting is that concerning journalists allowed access to Tibet. I like Fu’s analogy which I think can easily be understood by reasonable people: We get tired of those who seem to only report their agenda. I like that she openly admits this as the reason why the Chinese government does not allow access to Tibet to certain journalists. It is at least honest and not some lame excuse that has been peddled before like “oh, its not safe there” or “the weather is bad”. Honesty here is good because there isn’t plausible dishonesty available. Choose the lesser of two evils, and in this case that would be honesty. I like that she says the darkness may be facts, but that there is such a thing as selective facts. Good response.

SPIEGEL: It’s not only Tibet which is developing at a fast pace. Lately, the West has been up to its neck in debts, but China has experienced fantastic growth. Has communism ultimately defeated capitalism?

Fu Ying: We are not the Soviet Union. During the entire Cold War, the West and the Soviet Union were at each other’s throats. You each wanted to see the other side’s demise; that was your strategic objective. But China was not part of your fight and we have always supported Germany’s reunification.

Another loaded question set up by…LoL, is that the closest Spiegel can get to humility and self-deprecation? Seriously, that is a lame question that is more or less designed to pit the buzzwords of communism against capitalism leveraging continued ignorance that China isn’t really “communism” insofar as “communism” was theorized as some an economic model alternative to “capitalism” (it was actually theorized as a evolution but whatever).

I have to say here that Fu’s response is rather weak in that it devolves into irrelevance. The first part up to “strategic objective” is good and addresses the question but if we want to nitpick, China was definitely part of the fight and the comment about having always supported Germany’s reunification is like an odd interjection: “Oh hey, your shoes are nice!” I suppose we could infer that Fu is referring to how Germany was a symbolic battleground and divide between communism and capitalism, between the West and the Soviet Union, and that perhaps support for reunification is some abstract support for the end of a communism vs. capitalism dichotomy…but no, I’d still say Fu didn’t do a good job responding to this question and could’ve done a lot more dispelling of that Cold War framework.

Part 3 is subtitled as “‘China Has No Intention to Rule the World'”. Like the second part, the questions and answers here also look more natural than the very first part.

SPIEGEL: As of the end of June, China held US bonds with a total value of $1.165 trillion and European bonds worth $700 billion. Economically, China is already a superpower today. What does that mean for the political balance of power?

Fu Ying: Many say that power is shifting from the West to the East, but we believe that it is a process of diffusion. It used to be within the Western world, but now it is also diffusing to a wider world. There is a need to reform the current world structure, which was built after World War II to the benefit of around 1 billion people of the developed world. China is only one of the newly emerging countries. Brazil is growing. India is growing, as are parts of Africa. In the future, 3 to 4 billion people will be coming into this process of wider industrialization. But that reform needs to be an incremental process that is achieved not through war and not through conflict, but through dialogue.

SPIEGEL: Will the West wind up on the losing side?

Fu Ying: You are currently experiencing difficulties, but you have gone through so many difficulties in the past — Europe and the US — and you always bounce back. We are also interdependent, and your loss is not necessarily our gain. We’re in one boat. And we indeed worry when Western economies are experiencing difficulties. That’s why it is good that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are taking the lead. Very recently, my colleagues and I discussed the future of the European Union. The prevalent view was that if you work together to address the current difficulties, then the EU will go forward to become more integrated. If you do not, the euro zone might collapse.

SPIEGEL: What would it mean for China if the financial crisis in the West extends to other regions?

Fu Ying: Everyone would suffer.

Great responses here by Fu, mostly because she is fair in her appraisal of both history and what’s happening but also even flattering of the West, which engenders her to Western audiences. This mix, this balance of stating what is but also making it unoffensive to swallow, is what I wanted to see more of in some of her other responses that I criticize above. Its important that China stops the conversation from being about China vs. the West or–worse–vs. the rest of the world, and Fu does a good job of that here by talk of diffusion of power, emerging countries, being interdependent, being in one boat, and how it doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game.

SPIEGEL: Many observers believe that the legitimacy of the Chinese government hinges on its economic success. In the event of an economic crisis, would you need to be worried about your country’s stability?

Fu Ying: Do Western governments change their multi-party system during an economic crisis? I don’t think so. Why should we be worried? Having said that, our reform is an ongoing process and we will continue to move forward.

A deft parry by Fu on this one. The thing with this question is that it is actually premised on a lot of substantive issues of what makes the Chinese people tolerate all of the current failures or shortcomings of the Chinese government. The suggestion that the social contract in China is currently and primarily built on the government being able to deliver continued improvements to the standard of living. Most China watchers are already familiar with this and most people, including the Chinese, would likely agree that the question is a reasonable one.

The reason Fu’s response is a “parry” is because it ignores this and assumes by assertion that economic success isn’t the only thing or a critical underpinning of the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese. It’s a “deft” parry because she then follows up with an nod to ongoing reform, which can be interpreted as the government understanding the need to establish its legitimacy with more than just economic growth in the long-term.

SPIEGEL: For a long time, the West believed that the developments in China were a win-win situation for everyone involved. Now, however, the impression is solidifying — even within international institutions like the World Trade Organization — that the Chinese want to shift the balance of the global economy to their advantage. The long-term policy of keeping the Renminbi artificially undervalued is just one example of this that is often cited.

Fu Ying: China has no intention to rule the world. But if you continue to see yourself as the center of the world, if you see yourself as the monopoly of all truths, all the right beliefs and all the right values, then you will always find it uncomfortable when you realize that the world is diversified. There are different values and cultures. And if you believe you have won the Cold War, then the Cold War is finished, over, done. We are living in a new world. Get down off your high horse of being on top of the world. Come down to be equals and join us on a level playing field instead of creating a new rival in the style of the Cold War.

Another good response. Notice how big a difference makes when she leads off with something like “but if” instead of the more accusatory “you”. It is much more easily swallowed. Even the “get down off your high horse” sounds more human and emphatic than defensive and pettily indignant.

Granted, however, is that she doesn’t actually address the question of whether or not China wants to shift the balance of the global economy to her advantage, or the specific example of artificially undervalued RMB. She probably can’t really touch the example, but I do wonder what would happen if she said: “Of course we want to shift the balance of the global economy to our advantage! Why doesn’t? Let me ask you, would you say the global economy has been balanced towards certain countries’ advantage in the past, even now? We all want win-win, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes what we think as win-win may actually look like win-lose to others, and they will naturally seek to rebalance. Isn’t that reasonable? Finding win-win situations requires constant negotiation and competition. We should all seek to do this peacefully.”

SPIEGEL: You maintain very close relations with leaders like Kim Jong Il in North Korea, whose people are starving because he refuses to open up his country, or North Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is being sought for crimes against humanity. What is your philosophy regarding this?

Fu Ying: Our own sufferings in history have taught us that we should never try to impose on other countries or support others to impose. We have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; we have hundreds of Chinese UN peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan. If every time you don’t like the leader of a country and then move in and intervene, that would lead to chaos. Think of your own experience in intervention, which is not always successful.

SPIEGEL: You’re referring to the military deployment in your neighbor country, Afghanistan.

Fu Ying: You need to reflect on your own experience.

LoL, this exchange is funny though I think she could’ve been a bit more indulgent with her wording while still remaining firm on her point. The obvious weakness of this response is that China can be arguably accused of imposing on other countries and supporting others to impose when it has suited her interests just as she has refused to do so when it hasn’t…just like other countries. It’s good that she keeps the point on “Hey, you guys need to reflect on your own experiences” or maybe I would elaborate on that by explicitly discussing not just the intentions of intervention but also the ultimate results, in success and failure as well as cost and benefit.

Soldiers from Chinese Paramilitary Forces march in formation during a training session at the 60th National Day Parade Village on the outskirts of Beijing September 15, 2009. China will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding on October 1. Picture taken September 15, 2009. REUTERS/Joe Chan (CHINA ANNIVERSARY MILITARY POLITICS) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

SPIEGEL: China weakens institutions like the United Nations, in particular, because you frequently water down joint resolutions against Iran, North Korea or Syria, whose President Bashar Assad allows the army to fire against his own people, to the point of ineffectiveness. Where are the limits to China’s tolerance of human rights violations?

Fu Ying: The case of Iran is part of the whole security situation. That’s why we have the five-plus-one discussions on Iran. In the case of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we have the six-party talks. I believe patient diplomacy will pay off in the end.

SPIEGEL: With regard to Iran, this patience could result in us losing a race against time in the end.

Fu Ying: We don’t have a better solution.

LoL, great response.

SPIEGEL: Given differences of opinion like that, how are powers like China and the USA supposed to cooperate in dealing with global challenges like cyber security, financial stability, food security and nuclear proliferation?

Fu Ying: We need to overcome the wall of distrust. If we only allow ourselves to be led by our own views, our own feeling, our own emotions, even our own values, then we will only create more problems. Be it peacekeeping missions or the protection of shipping channels off the coast of Somalia or climate change, I think you will find China to be an enthusiastic participant in world affairs.

Good as well, keeping it about opening our minds, putting ourselves in each others shoes, etc.

SPIEGEL: How does it feel to be viewed as a new economic superpower?

Fu Ying: It is flattering.

SPIEGEL: Does it make you nervous, as well?

Fu Ying: Not at all. We don’t view ourselves as a superpower. You are not going to see a USA or a Soviet Union in China. You are going to see a culturally nourished country with a big population, being more content, being happy, being purposeful — and it will be a friend to the world. There is no reason to worry about China.

SPIEGEL: Madame Fu Ying, we thank you for this interview.

The “we don’t view ourselves as a superpower” line is a good one to stress because for the most part, China doesn’t. It has moments of pride and aspiration, sure, but deep down it isn’t self-assured of being a super-power yet (or again, as it once was way back in the day). Whether we’ll see a USA or Soviet Union in China remains to be seen I think but I think the final comments become too saccharine and a unrealistic. Instead of “it will be a friend to the world”, I’d humanize it to “we genuinely want to be a friend to the world and for the world to be a friend to us.” Instead of “there is no reason to worry about China”, I’d humanize it to “we understand why many worry about China, just as we worry about others, that’s normal, but we sincerely hope we can find a peaceful, mutually beneficial, and mutually respectful way of seeing the future together.”

Fu Ying is engaged in political PR with this interview, and China stands to benefit from all of the basic rules of PR, including being aware, sensitive, and acknowledging of what the audience knows as well as what biases the audiences have that need to be placated. On Spiegel, you’re not going to get away with “let’s be friends!” You have to respect the audience to be intelligent enough to know that China knows why they have reservations, fears, or criticisms of China. You can’t win them over with false smiles and superficial denials like “there is no reason to worry”. You MAY win their respect if however you acknowledge their worries, express your own, and propose working on them together.

Image Credits: The images in this post are the same images included on the Spiegel article and credited to Katharina Hesse/DER SPIEGEL, DPA, Reuters.


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  1. DSLAM

    An interesting analysis. Thanks. I was encouraged by some of the questions by Speigel as well as some of the answers by Madame Fu.

    Eventually, in the future, when the CCP is no longer in power, these sort of responses by the Chinese govt. will seem rather charming and quaint I think.

  2. King Tubby

    Checking my email. I don’t believe this. I’m totally incredulous!

  3. tc

    I stopped reading your long post at “…the sheer size of China only make such work more difficult…”.

    The west have been working very hard trying to break China into pieces, and you think that’s a better argument?

  4. King Tubby

    Okay. Okay. Pretty smooth responses and probably even better when reframed. Will they allay fears and suspicions? Highly unlikely. Q and A engagements such as this are always negated by the prior historical record relating to the issues touched upon. Temporary audience anaesthetic at best and not much more.

    This applies equally to Madame Fu, David Cameron or Oz PM Gillard.

  5. Komrade Kaipan
    nice article,

    When I was reading this, was listening to…..

    Song of the Article

    I Wish
    Franka Potente + Thomas D


    catch you on the next wave……


    your faithful follower

  6. pug_ster

    Wow, after a 5 month hiatus, you come back with an interesting article. I am surprised that Fu Ying allowed Der Spiegel to give them these kind of questions. I wonder if any Chinese reporters can have an interview with the German diplomat who claims that Chinese land acquisitions have at least partly been responsible for famine in Africa.

  7. S.K. Cheung

    Interesting post. I’m also curious if this was a face-to-face interview, because some of Spiegel’s questions are framed in a rather unpleasant way. And if Ms. Fu provided the answers she did on the fly, then she is indeed a very skilled diplomat who has an expert grasp of the usual talking points.

    Considering that this interview is meant for “western” consumption, I think people will generally come away being impressed by her, but their views on China will not change one iota, simply because the content of her responses breaks no new ground and slavishly adheres to the party line…which is of course her job…and which is to say that she did her job well from that perspective.

    You’ve done an impressive job in dissecting the interview in such detail. In general, i think the Spiegel journalist was being a bit rude. And in general, I think she did particularly well on the economic/military/defense questions, which mirrors China’s strengths. At the same time, I think she did generally poorly when it came to human rights and Tibet, which coincides with where the CCP lags. And the words “conceit” and “Cold War” were used so often so as to lose their effect, unless it was for the purposes of a drinking game.