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In Chinese admiral's outburst, a lingering distrust of U.S.

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By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BEIJING

On May 24 in a vast meeting room inside the grounds of the state guesthouse at Diaoyutai in Beijing, Rear Adm. Guan Youfei of the People's Liberation Army rose to speak.

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Known among U.S. officials as a senior "barbarian handler," which means that his job is to deal with foreigners, not lead troops, Guan faced about 65 American officials, part of the biggest delegation the U.S. government has ever sent to China.

Everything, Guan said, that is going right in U.S. relations with China is because of China. Everything, he continued, that is going wrong is the fault of the United States. Guan accused the United States of being a "hegemon" and of plotting to encircle China with strategic alliances. The official saved the bulk of his bile for U.S. arms sales to China's nemesis, Taiwan -- Guan said these prove that the United States views China as an enemy.

U.S. officials have since depicted Guan's three-minute jeremiad as an anomaly. A senior U.S. official traveling on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's plane back to the United States dismissed it, saying it was "out of step" with the rest of the two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And last week in Singapore, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sought to portray not just Guan, but the whole of the People's Liberation Army, as an outlier intent on blocking better ties with Washington while the rest of China's government moves ahead.

But interviews in China with a wide range of experts, Chinese officials and military officers indicate that Guan's rant -- for all its discomfiting bluster -- actually represents the mainstream views of the Chinese Communist Party, and that perhaps the real outliers might be those in China's government who want to side with the United States.

Guan's speech underscored that 31 years after the United States and China normalized relations, there remains a deep distrust in Beijing. That the United States is trying to keep China down is a central part of the party's catechism and a foundation of its claims to legitimacy.

More broadly, many Chinese security experts and officials view the Obama administration's policy of encouraging Chinese participation in solving the world's problems -- including climate change, the global financial crisis and the security challenges in Iran and North Korea -- not as attempts to elevate China into the ranks of global leadership but rather as a scheme to enmesh it in a paralyzing web of commitments.

"Admiral Guan was representing what all of us think about the United States in our hearts," a senior Chinese official, who deals with the United States regularly, said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with a reporter. "It may not have been politically correct, but it wasn't an accident."

"It's silly to talk about factions when it comes to relations with the United States," said a general in the PLA who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The army follows the party. Do you really think that Guan did this unilaterally?"

China's fear of the United States was very much on display this past weekend during the Shangri-La Dialogue, where Gates and his Chinese counterparts clashed repeatedly throughout the program.

Gates said it was unnecessary for the PLA to hold the military relationship hostage because U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are, "quite frankly, old news." The United States has provided military assistance to Taiwan since 1949, when the Nationalist government of China fled to the island after the Communist victory on the mainland; this assistance did not stop when Washington normalized relations with Beijing in 1979.


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