Opinion / Editorials

Barb reflects badly on US

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-14 07:49

US president Barack Obama probably didn't anticipate his interview with The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in the White House Map Room, in which China was mentioned only on the sidelines, would stir up such an exasperated response across the Pacific.

For days, Chinese media have been running rebuttals of Obama's portrayal of China as a "free rider".

Obama's remarks are one-sided, unfair, and inconsistent with facts, argue the most-quoted international relations scholars. Angrier commentators see the US' arrogance behind it.

The best rebuttal of late goes that while China may have been a free rider, it has also been offering free rides to the rest of the world; which sounds fairer and more balanced.

His role as the US president did make Obama's free rider rhetoric more unpleasant to Chinese ears. Yet the metaphor had been imposed on China in the US media long before Obama picked it up. And his audience here knows, and cares little, about the rest of that hour-long interview.

Still, his unintended audience here feels wronged, and hurt.

We have carved out our own way to prosperity and deserve what we have earned. We have behaved nicely in the hope of being accepted as a responsible member of the international community. We have been an active participant in United Nations-sponsored peace-keeping and development aid programs, as well as a strong voice for peace and justice in international affairs. And we have offered precious hope to others through the two recent global financial crises.

It is thus mean of a foreign head of state, whose government is heavily indebted to us, to call us free riders.

But that should not make us forget this country has benefited tremendously from the favorable international environment throughout its rise from rags to riches. Western capital, technologies, and management expertise have contributed enormously to our economic miracle.

It is really no big deal being called, or calling others, free riders. That the media frenzy is yet to result in any form of diplomatic representation is a reassuring signal that the fuss will go no further.

But it does reflect the tricky sensitivities that complicate the relations between countries. At the root of this episode lies the fundamental question of whether and how China and the United States will find a way to realize the new type of major-country relationship they have envisioned. Which boils down to whether they can accommodate each other's changing roles. And Washington may want to ask itself to what extent is a proactive China not "assertive".

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