Obama says the U.S. will lead the world for the next 100 years. China disagrees.

May 30, 2014

The sun sets behind the Chinese national flag fluttering on top of the Great Hall of the People in March 12013.  (Ng Han Guan/AP)

This week, President  Obama said that the U.S. will remain the one indispensable nation in the century to come. One country who has its own dreams of leadership wasn't quite so sure, however.

On Thursday, at a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang commented with sarcasm. “It seems that the U.S. really enjoys being the leader of the world,” he said, before casting doubt on Obama's prediction by making reference to a World Cup-predicting sea creature. “However, in the field of international relations, I wonder if there exists a 'Paul the Octopus' who can predict the future.”

His comments were a direct response to remarks delivered by  Obama at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., commencement ceremony this Wednesday. In his speech,  Obama reflected on America’s foreign policy agenda and articulated his vision of America’s role in the world.

“America must always lead on the world stage," Obama declared. "If we don’t, no one else will.”

Qin's comments weren't the only sign of an official reaction. The Global Times, China’s state-run nationalist-leaning newspaper, later published an editorial and challenged that view, asking, “America wants to lead the world for another 100 years, but with what?”

The editorial went on to say that America was not powerful enough to support its “luxurious dream” of leading the world, arguing that America was “greedy for all kinds of power” but lacks “a big heart,” which is “a key factor to be a leader.”

“The revival and rise of China and Russia makes America extremely anxious,” the editorial said. With volatile policies towards China and Russia, America will “be importing its anxiety to the world if it is to ‘lead the world.' ”

Another editorial published in Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said Obama’s remarks on the U.S. world leadership “once again revealed that America wanted to seek hegemony with the cold war thinking of a global alliances system.” The rapid development of technology, integration of world economy and people has never “changed America’s old weakness of seeing the new world with old thoughts and exceptionalism,” the editorial said.

Comments from the U.S. about foreign policy often stir discussion in China, and both leftists and rightists fiercely debate whether the Chinese adore the West too much. Even the self-reflection of a U.S. president on its own foreign policy has caused blatant criticism from state media.

Compared with direct criticism from state media, however, the comments from Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, seemed to be more restrained and veiled. He resorted to ancient Chinese wisdom. “China once led the world for more than one hundred years in history. The rise and fall in history left us with both experience and lessons.

“Today, we still talk about the wisdom recorded over 2,000 years ago in a chronicle called Zuo Zhuan. It reads: Some rulers can lead their states to unstoppable prosperity because they examine themselves instead of blaming others, like Emperor Yu and Emperor Tang, while some bring their reigns to swift demise because they always criticize others, like Emperor Jie and Emperor Zhou.”

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