Explosive: Hillary Clinton says China’s regime will collapse

The gloves come off as US and China square up for a round of diplomatic boxing.

Vembu May 11, 2011 07:51:55 IST
Explosive: Hillary Clinton says China’s regime will collapse

Diplomacy, it’s been well said, is the art of saying the nastiest things in the nicest way. If that’s the case, it appears from recent comments by top leaders in the US and in China, in high-profile media appearances, that the two ‘frenemies’ have dispensed with the ritual of being nice even as they say nasty things.

In an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invoked some of the most, well, undiplomatic words ever uttered by an US administration official against China’s prickly rulers.

Clinton even went so far as to provocatively suggest that China’s Communist Party would collapse under the weight of a popular uprising similar to what’s unfolding in parts of West Asia and Northern Africa.

The money quote from Clinton:

(The Chinese) are worried. They’re trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it, but they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”

In another part of the interview, Clinton described China’s human rights record as “deplorable”.

As Goldberg notes on his blog, Clinton’s comments calling into question the long-term viability of China’s one-party system is extraordinary, and “almost-Reaganesque”. And although the Obama administration has been stepping up its criticism of China’s human rights record, Clinton’s remarks go much farther.

James Fallows, Goldberg’s colleague at The Atlantic, explains that Clinton’s apparent “dustbin of history” comment on China is most unusual – and that the Chinese are likely to seek “clarifications” about her intent.

Why is this unusual? Fallows says that it isn’t that US officials haven’t criticised China at all. But all their harsh pronouncements were always ‘softened’ by the assertion that the US was not trying to contain China or checkmate its rise. On the other hand, the US has always emphasised that it welcome’s China’s ascendance, but that it wants to ensure that “universal values” are protected even as China rises.

Which is why, says Fallows, when Chinese leaders hear a sitting US Secretary of State “make an offhand remark that sounds like, ‘we know you’’re going to collapse, sooner or later,’ it’s like confirmation of their worst paranoid fears.”

Explosive Hillary Clinton says Chinas regime will collapse

hina's Vice Premier Wang Qishan (L) and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Interior Department in Washington May 10, 2011. Jason Reed/Reuters

But  'verbal volleyball' is evidently a game two can play. Comments from Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who appeared on The Charlie Rose Show, are just as feisty. The US, he suggested, did not know China because “the American people, they’re very simple people” – and so did not have what it takes to understand China “because China is an ancient civilisation and we are of the Oriental culture.”

The US and China are in the middle of their Strategic and Economic Dialogue right now, and the outcome of those talks shows considerably more progress than these ‘war of words’ would suggest.

A photograph released from the talks shows Clinton seated alongside Wang; strikingly, both seem in elevated spirits. Wang is beaming, and Clinton has her head thrown back in a hearty guffaw.

Perhaps the rules of diplomacy have changed. Perhaps it’s all about getting the nasty bits out of the way in media appearances so that head-to-head meetings can ooze cordiality.

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