I’ve been caught up in catching up with my life after a month on the road, so I’m shamefully late in congratulating the Nobel Committee for its selection of Liu Xiaobo for its Peace Prize this year. The Chinese government is going berserk, of course, snubbing the Norwegians and putting the laureate’s wife under house arrest. It’s always good to remember that they don’t call themselves the Middle Kingdom for nothing: they are as xenophobic, as convinced of their superiority and righteousness, as any country on earth…and they’ve been getting rather chesty lately, threatening the Japanese, threatening tariffs against American chicken manufacturers–!–and dragging their feet on currency reform.
The Chinese have helped quietly, but significantly, in keeping Pakistan from going off the rails; and their willingness to join the Iran sanctions regime is important. But not so important that we need to maintain radio silence every time they start acting obnoxiously. Our signals can be subtle, like sending Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Vietnam to discuss mutual defense issues (the Vietnamese have been threatened by China for 2,000 years). Or they can be less than subtle, like having the Senate pass the House legislation that would give the President the power to impose tariffs on the Chinese if they don’t reform their currency.
It is important to remember the basic equation here: The Chinese don’t have us over a barrel. We’ve had the better of the deal. We get their products; they’ve got our debt. I’ll take that deal anytime, especially since we have ultimate power over how much that debt actually is worth.
And so congratulations, Liu Xiaobo. And let the Chinese understand that their ranting in protest only causes them to lose face, and seem weak, in the eyes of the world.