WikiLeaks cable: Watch China's actions, not words

Posted at 07/04/12 10:47 PM

MANILA, Philippines - China's fire and brimstone rhetorics against other countries are aimed at pleasing its citizens and are not necessarily meant to threaten its neighbors, according a confidential US embassy memo published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Cable 10BEIJING383, which was sent on February 12, 2010 by the US Embassy in Beijing to the US State Department, discussed complaints of foreign diplomats regarding China's "muscle-flexing, triumphalism, and assertiveness in its diplomacy."

The cable written by U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Jr.  said China was "making no friends" with its "pugnacious" and rude  attitude toward British and French envoys during a summit between Chinese and European leaders.

The memo also mentioned the extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy being espoused by Communist Party-affiliated tabloid, the Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao).

Huntsman, however, said that a Global Times senior official, whose name has been redacted in the WikiLeaks-published document, told a US embassy political officer that China and state media's attitude on foreign policy matters are "designed to play to Chinese public opinion" and do not reflect Beijing real intentions.

"[The Global Times] contact advised that foreign observers should not take Chinese rhetorical strutting too seriously, as 'actions speak louder than words,'" the US ambassador said.

"Watch China's actions, not words," Huntsman stressed in his memo.

"The Chinese government had a clear vision of China´s interests, [the Global Times senior media source] said, and it was most important to maintain a 'favorable foreign policy environment' for the government to pursue pressing economic and social development goals at home," he said.

"Quoting a Chinese phrase used to describe Deng Xiaoping´s strategy for mollifying ideological Communists with socialist rhetoric while pursuing capitalist economic reforms, [the Global Times senior media source] said we should expect China... to 'put on the left turn signal in order to turn right," he added.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, backed up by Chinese media led by the Global Times and the Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, have been waging a war of words with the Philippines and Vietnam over the territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

The latest vitriol from China involves a US offer to the Philippines on reconnaissance aircraft being deployed to the Spratlys and Scarborough.

The reconnaissance aircraft proposal being considered by Manila has triggered a slew of fiery comments from the Chinese media.

This has prompted Malacañang to issue a response to state-owned Chinese media.

“Can I say to the Chinese, ‘Xiao xin yi dian’ (Be a little careful). Be a little careful about your statements,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Playing up to local readers

While Chinese diplomats have been careful with their choice of words with regard to the Spratlys and Scarborough, Chinese state media companies have been espousing aggressive moves to end the dispute.

On Wednesday, the Global Times published an opinion piece stating that "the Philippines and Vietnam deserve to be punished" for insisting ownership of the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal.

"If they go to extremes in their provocations against China, it is likely that they will finally be punished through means including military strikes," the newspaper said.

"However, China definitely will be very cautious in making such decisions," it added.

"The Philippines and Vietnam are obviously disturbing China. They are not part of China's international political ambitions, but China must not let their disturbance go unchecked," it said.

"The right policy might be to tell them our bottom line and avoid a war of words with them, but teach them an unforgettable lesson when it is time to hit back," said the opinion piece, which did not have a byline.

"The world has entered a stage in which small countries can make trouble for big powers. If these island disputes had happened in imperial times, they would have been handled in a much easier way. China may have many ways to teach the Philippines a lesson, but we must not easily use them," the opinion piece added.

"This does not mean China is showing weakness," it added.

A careful reading of the strongly-worded article may indicate that it is meant to be read by a nationalist local audience.

'To sell more newspapers'

The US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks mentioned a protected source at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who "was withering in her criticism of populist/nationalistic media that exaggerated China´s strength and influence in the world."

"Specifically citing the Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao, Chinese edition), she told PolOff [Political Office] February 3 that the media was 'deliberately misleading the public to sell more newspapers.' She said that the Global Times and similar publications were guilty of 'ultra-nationalism' and 'overstating Chinese capabilities,'" US Ambassador Huntsman said.

"The 'powerful China' theme, she said, was dangerous and wrong," he added. "These newspapers, and the people, need to sober up a bit and realize the reality of China's position."

"Simplistic nationalism in the press made it very hard for China to show the necessary flexibility and creativity in its foreign affairs," the cable said.

Another academic, whose identity was also withheld in the redacted cable, said the Global Times' "hawkish" editorial slant is "consistent with the demands of the readers and normal for a market-driven newspaper."

The Global Times senior official who talked to a US embassy political officer admitted that while the government and the Communist Party influenced what got reported in the Chinese media, his tabloid "must reflect public opinion to make money."