China and the World

Red faces?

What WikiLeaks has revealed about China

Going for a leak: Julian Assange

“Why not give the peace prize to Julian Assange?” was the headline in the Beijing Daily last week, in a thinly disguised dig at events that day in Norway.

But as the dust settles on the most recent round of WikiLeaks revelations, China’s response to the publication of US diplomatic cables has been fairly muted. Here are some of the most interesting China-related WikiLeaks themes that have turned up in the international press (Chinese citizens themselves have been unable to access the WikiLeaks content).

North Korea: got most of the headlines in recent weeks, especially the comments attributed to China foreign ministry that North Korea has behaved like a “spoiled child”. Also claims that the US urged China to stop a shipment of missile components from North Korea to Iran in 2007. Chinese officials were also reported to be “fed up with the foot dragging” of the Burmese junta, according to the US cables.

The Google hacking: there was widespread coverage of the rumour that hacker attacks on Google’s operations were stepped up after a senior Politburo figure (the propaganda chief) typed his own name into the search engine and didn’t like the resulting material.

Adverse comments on Chinese diplomats: China’s representative in Kyrgyzstan is described as losing his capacity to converse (in Russian) such was his anger at a line of questioning from his American counterpart. But probably more maligned was China’s representative to the six-nation talks on North Korea, described by a South Korean source as an “arrogant, Marx-spouting former Red Guard who knows nothing”.

Relations in Africa: a growing awareness of China’s commercial pull on the African continent is reported, although not to the extent that China is considered “a military, security or intelligence threat”. But China is still counted as “a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals”. “Little dovetailing” of interests with American ones in Africa so far.

Future leaders: compared to unfavourable mentions of figures like Berlusconi, Rudd, Gaddafi and Putin, senior Chinese figures like Xi Jinping actually seem to have come out of it reasonably well. Xi is described as a cautious but engaging figure who prefers watching US war films – Saving Private Ryan is a favourite – to sitting through Chinese historical dramas. Li Keqiang sounds rather pragmatic too, with his doubts about some of his country’s GDP data (“man made” and therefore prone to error, he says).

Princelings versus shopkeepers: reports of the factionalism that separate the old ‘red’ families – those with lineage whose relatives were prominent in bringing the Communists to power in 1949 – from others who have risen up the Party ranks since (the shopkeepers in question).

China’s current leaders, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, both fall into the newcomer category, although Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary icon Xi Zhongxun. But according to the US dispatches, some of the princelings still feel that their family background denotes a special status. One individual is reported putting a lesser rival in his place, with the observation: “While my father was bleeding and dying for China, your father was selling shoelaces”.

Talking to the bank manager: Hillary Clinton’s question of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on how best to negotiate with the Chinese: “How do you deal toughly with your banker?”

Disappearing act: a visit to the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei led a US official to remark that “a walk through their labs seemed to indicate they had already succeeded in single-particle quantum teleportation and are now trying to conduct dual-particle quantum teleportation.” Translated through the Star Trek filter: “beam me up” technology may soon be upon us, albeit under a Chinese patent.


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