Commentary Magazine


China Tells Off Thomas Friedman

At the end of last week, Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum completed its Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions in the Chinese port of Dalian. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the Forum’s three days of platitudes came when Thomas Friedman, prize-winning New York Times columnist, got “the middle finger in the Middle Kingdom,” as journalist-blogger Rebecca MacKinnon put it.

Friedman accused Beijing of being a “free loader” in the international system, letting the United States carry the burden of global “guardian” by itself. He specifically mentioned that China needs to do more to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to halt the genocide in Darfur. China’s most interesting diplomat, Sha Zukang, told Tom off—and showed how unprepared Beijing is to assume a helpful role in global affairs. Sha, now a U.N. undersecretary-general, said that China believes that countries should not assume world leadership but be elected to it. Beijing, he noted, treats all others as “equals.” China, therefore, is not going to lend a hand to the United States—or any other nation—to solve problems.

Amusing as it is to see Friedman told off, we have to ask ourselves seriously: should he really be encouraging a disruptive force to take an even larger role in world affairs? His theory (and the Bush administration’s) is that the Chinese, as they become enmeshed in the international system, will become a “responsible stakeholder” in it. But the Chinese are not yet ready to play this role. They’re still supplying small arms to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, still providing material and diplomatic support to the North Korean regime, and, in all probability, still transferring nuclear weapons technology to Iran. Engagement with China may be a necessary long-term plan, but it’s the wrong approach for a world in need of immediate relief. Beijing is a large part of the problem, not the solution. Tom, did you hear that? Mr. President, did you?