Beijing in big brother’s shoes | world | Hindustan Times
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Beijing in big brother’s shoes

When US President Barack Obama beamed in Beijing, the Chinese managed tight-lipped smiles. When he spoke haltingly with none of his usual confidence, about Tibet, Iran or the Chinese currency, they ignored him, served chicken soup with bean curd and sent him to climb the Great Wall, reports Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Nov 20, 2009 00:40 IST
Reshma Patil

When US President Barack Obama beamed in Beijing, the Chinese managed tight-lipped smiles. When he spoke haltingly with none of his usual confidence, about Tibet, Iran or the Chinese currency, they ignored him, served chicken soup with bean curd and sent him to climb the Great Wall.

Even before Obama made his first and conciliatory China visit urging the ‘strong and prosperous’ communist nation (and the US’ biggest creditor) to execute its ‘responsibility’ of a global role, the definition of that role was being debated in Beijing.

“Not all of America’s problems are automatically China’s problems,’’ Shen Dingli, executive dean of the Institute of International Relations of the elite Fudan University in Shanghai, told HT this week.

“We follow when the US is right and we refuse to follow when the US is wrong. We will expand our global role but not because the US wants us to expand but because we need to do it anyway.’’

In the rare US-China joint statement released after Obama’s summit with his counterpart Hu Jintao, Beijing made it clear that India-Pakistan bilateral relations are now officially its problem.

The Chinese were desperate for a joint statement from the visit, said a veteran analyst of Sino-US relations, David Shambaugh, in a talk in Beijing ahead of Obama’s arrival.

But he referred to an identity crisis in China’s foreign policy elite about the nation’s global role, and pointed out that China eschews the word ‘leader’ in foreign policy.

When Premier Wen Jiabao met Obama, he rejected the idea of a Sino-US G2.

So Beijing will maintain a modest public face in certain global affairs but piggyback on the current US backing of its ‘responsibility’ to speak up. China will assert its new confident profile when it suits Chinese interests.

Beijing showed that confidence by naming India and its all-weather ally Pakistan in a joint statement, instead of merely saying South Asia.

“It (the statement) is not imperialistic,’’ said Shen. “It’s an expression of confidence and responsibility. When friends (India-Pakistan) don’t get along, we’ll get hurt. If they say they welcome US brother, China brother, we’ll be happy but cautious to step in.’’