Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Chinese regime scared of banality

Faithful readers of Shadow Government know that there are good reasons to be wary about China’s strength (as explained here and here). But this short report in today’s Washington Post reminds us that there are also ample signs of China’s weakness. And there can be many ways in which a weak China could be just ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Faithful readers of Shadow Government know that there are good reasons to be wary about China's strength (as explained here and here).

But this short report in today's Washington Post reminds us that there are also ample signs of China's weakness. And there can be many ways in which a weak China could be just as vexing as a strong one.

The Post reports that state censors interrupted the Obama-Hu news conference and substituted a black screen for Hu's response to questions from a reporter about China's human rights record. Hu's response was hardly revelatory, though he did acknowledge that China's record was not perfect and that more progress needed to be made -- a statement so banal that it could be said about every country, indeed President Obama has said much the same thing about the United States.

Faithful readers of Shadow Government know that there are good reasons to be wary about China’s strength (as explained here and here).

But this short report in today’s Washington Post reminds us that there are also ample signs of China’s weakness. And there can be many ways in which a weak China could be just as vexing as a strong one.

The Post reports that state censors interrupted the Obama-Hu news conference and substituted a black screen for Hu’s response to questions from a reporter about China’s human rights record. Hu’s response was hardly revelatory, though he did acknowledge that China’s record was not perfect and that more progress needed to be made — a statement so banal that it could be said about every country, indeed President Obama has said much the same thing about the United States.

A regime that will not allow its own leader’s banal public remarks to be broadcast at home is a regime that is so insecure it doubts its own legitimacy. Remember, these are remarks that were playing live to the entire world, yet Chinese propagandists were apparently afraid to let their own public hear them.

So while signs of Chinese growing strength should not be ignored, neither should we ignore signs of lingering, and perhaps deepening, weakness. Indeed, the two can combine to pose special challenges for U.S. foreign policy, producing the very bellicose hypernationalism and overconfident adventurism that we have seen in the past year.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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