China outsourcing its dirty work to U.S. military

by Adam Minter

Bloomberg

There’s very little that the Chinese government likes less than the projection of U.S. military power. The reasons range widely — from a general distaste for the U.S. meddling outside its borders to Beijing’s frequent support for autocratic regimes. China steadfastly opposed the idea of U.S. intervention in Syria, for instance, and in 2011, it refused to back military action in Libya (though it abstained from the Security Council vote to authorize strikes).

So a week ago Friday, when the state-owned China Daily newspaper reached out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a comment on President Barack Obama’s authorization of airstrikes in Iraq, it might well have expected a stock condemnation of U.S. imperialism. It received something quite different.

“China supports safeguarding Iraqi sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and efforts to combat terrorism,” the paper said, paraphrasing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “And keeping an open mind about operations that preserve security and stability in Iraq.”

The response, though unusual, should not have been entirely unexpected. China has a great deal at stake in ensuring that the jihadists of the Islamic State do not continue to destabilize the Middle East. A day after the China Daily story, the popular and influential state-owned Global Times newspaper acknowledged as much in a widely circulated editorial:

ISIS’ rise, combined with the American airstrikes, have a limited impact on China. China’s disadvantage is that our dependence on Middle Eastern oil is increasing, and much faster than any other developed country.

In other words: Unless the Islamic State is dealt with sooner rather than later, its impact on China won’t be so limited.

As with Libya, though, the most help that China seems ready to offer is a tacit willingness not to complain about the U.S. and others intervening in Iraq. This reluctance to defend its own Mideast energy supplies more forcefully has not gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. During an interview last Saturday, Obama smiled ironically when the New York Times’ Tom Friedman referred to China as “the biggest energy investor in Iraq.”

“They are free riders,” Obama said. “And then they’ve been free riders for the last 30 years, and it’s worked really well for them.”

Even if, as seems likely, China’s leadership quietly agrees with this sentiment, they certainly don’t like hearing it broadcast by the president of the United States. After a couple of days, their propagandists struck back in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party. The tit-for-tat headline nicely summed up the tone: “Experts say the United States is the real ‘free rider.’ ” In the article, Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University, hailed the geopolitical benefits that China’s resurgence has supposedly brought the world, then asked:

“Obama says that China has been a ‘free rider’ for three decades, but didn’t the United States enjoy benefits from China’s economic boom and peaceful foreign policy?”

On Wednesday, the People’s Daily weighed in again, this time with an editorial (its editorials are official statements of policy on behalf of the Communist Party) that suggested how much Obama’s criticism had irked Chinese leaders. The piece notes the “unmistakable” relationship between the current chaos in Iraq and the U.S.’ decision in 2003 to “launch a brutal war in Iraq to overthrow its regime.”

Then, in a passage that’s subsequently been published in part in the state media’s English-language news sites (under the inexplicably off-message headline “Leading newspaper denies China’s exploitation of Iraq”), it offers this unsubtle poke in the ribs: “If the Americans want to compare themselves with China on Iraq, they’ll only embarrass themselves further. America is obviously the ‘invader’ and ‘deserter’ while China has always played the peaceful role of ‘partner’ and ‘builder.’ “

It’s hard to argue that China has played a constructive “builder” role in Iraq recent years, especially as its oil interests have expanded, just as it is difficult to counter China’s claim that U.S. mistakes contributed to the rise of the Islamic State.

Regardless, over time, oil and China’s insatiable energy needs are almost certainly going to push Beijing to become a more active Middle Eastern stakeholder. It’s time that China stops fighting that reality.

Adam Minter is a Bloomberg View columnist based in Shanghai.

  • Peter_T

    question for the author. When Obama said China is a free rider, you didn’t say it was propaganda. When China via their state newspaper say something back, they are propagandists? Is this the norm in terminology in which we treat those that are different than us in opinion?

    • Roppi

      hmmm – probably since all media is China is completely controlled by the state…seriously you can’t see the difference?

      • AussieLouis

        Are you saying that the western media is not controlled? It is controlled almost fully by the media oligarchs! The same Oligarchs who controlled Wall Street and off course the US government.

        You would have to be a liar or ignoramus to ignore this!

      • Roppi

        I would argue that it’s a matter of degrees – but it seems you’re the authority on the veracity of all western and Chinese media.
        As for being a liar or an ignoramus – I think you’ve got that covered real well on your own..
        But hey stick to your beliefs – I’m sure they make you feel better about yourself – hubris seems to do that..:))

      • AussieLouis

        Where, in my statements did you find to be untrue?

        I am not an authority as you described but if what I said is untrue, I am prepared to stand corrected.

        It’s best to stick to the truth if we are to avoid, what you state is, hubris.

        And when I say ‘you’, I refer to anyone and not a personal ‘you’. That there’s is a need for you to call me a liar says more about you than me.

      • Roppi

        re-read your initial post to me – see anything there about insinuating I’m either a liar or an ignoramus? Look carefully now – sounding out the words seems to help.
        back to your English teaching class Lou…

      • AussieLouis

        Now that you wish to get personal, you do sound like a petty old lady chiding others about having to learn!

        May I suggest you don’t waste time posting here if you cannot deal with facts?

      • Roppi

        Lou – mate – you can suggest anything you like – but there’s Buckley’s and no chance when tools like you are running around cyber-space twisting words and it seems insults to prove their ‘narrative’ right….
        Guys like you are sport..
        Now you go back to teaching English – like a good bogan and leave the real debates to the adults – sound familiar Lou?

      • AussieLouis

        And now you resort to calling names when the truth disallows you to engage in a debate. Only you, as you implied, know what a ‘real debate ‘ is. What a slob! You are an ‘adult’ alright and a bigoted one, no doubt.

        You think, delusionally, that you have a role of guarding narratives but in truth you are ensuring the perpetuation of untruths daily spouted by the western press to fool the generally unthinking reader.

        Everyone has a right, albeit even a duty, to unravel the distortions which you support.

        No amount of name-calling or intimidation from a bigoted mind would alter that!

      • Roppi

        I think it’s time for you to change your medication Louie…

        I can actually visualise you frothing from the mouth…:))

        You go off and unravel all those distortions – bravo – a real 2014 Don Quixote..

        It’s your duty mate – go get ‘em..

        I look forward to our next exchange..:))))

  • AussieLouis

    ‘China outsourcing its dirty work to U.S. military’

    ??? Are you saying that China need to do its own work of invading other nations illegally?