Yang Jiechi

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi speaks during talks with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam in June 2014. Pic: AP.

They can dish it out but they can’t take it

A notable characteristic of Chinese officials in international conferences and media is that their language is unusually blunt and rude, language that has done nothing to China’s effort to be recognized as a civilized member of the world diplomatic community.

Among Chinese officials and diplomats, politeness and respect seem absent from their discourse in international forums. After a recent visit to Vietnam, Yang Jiechi, a state councilor with a foreign policy portfolio, declared in Chinese media that his objective was to give a lecture to his Vietnamese counterparts.

A certain section of the Chinese media even called Vietnam a “prodigal son.” The comments were made amid a dangerous standoff between China and Vietnam in the disputed Paracel Islands. The language is patronizing and impudent. Indeed, to many Vietnamese, the reference of “prodigal son” is not only offensive, but can also be likened to an ideology of colonialism.

What’s interesting is that for a country aiming for superpower status, when the shoe is on the other foot, the Chinese dragon can be remarkably vulnerable to slights. Fang Kecheng, a Chinese blogger and master’s degree candidate in journalism at Peking University, a couple of years ago counted up the times foreign ministry spokesmen said officially that Chinese’s “feelings had been hurt.” According to Fang’s analysis, Chinese’s feelings were hurt at least 140 times by at least 42 countries as obscure as Iceland and Guatemala as well as a bunch of organizations since the Communists threw out the Kuomintang in 1949..

Typically, a statement goes [something] like this: “The (incident/statement) grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged the political basis of China-(offending country) bilateral relations”.

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