“It’s a bit chilly in Beijing,” said Yang Jiechi, “but I have confidence that you will see the biggest number of smiling faces here.” China’s foreign minister was not commenting on yesterday’s weather in friendly banter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His point was that China’s happy people were proof of the regime’s good human rights record.
Yang was lying, of course. But that’s not the point. Clinton knew he was lying, and that’s not the point either. The point is that Yang knew that Clinton knew he was lying but did not challenge him. The Chinese, in short, were putting forth their version of reality and Americans were accepting it. Minister Yang knew he had just humbled the United States.
“You know, a lot of international diplomacy is a head game,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday before arriving in Beijing. She’s right, and the Chinese have just outmaneuvered her. She thought she could buy their good will by accepting an obvious deception. They, however, interpreted her acceptance of their outrageous views as a sign of weakness. As one Indian observer recently remarked, Beijing now perceives the United States to be “a beakless eagle.” Abe Greenwald noted on Friday that the issue of human rights in China cannot be separated from the supposedly “broader issues.” He’s correct because the Communist Party, which has yet to shed the mentality of its early years, only respects strength.
Mrs. Clinton has lost the initial round of the “head game,” so don’t expect Beijing to be cooperative in the near future. President Obama’s diplomacy in China has just gotten off to a truly bad start.