This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.
Zhang Zhaozhong is like a Chinese Thomas Friedman: he's a celebrity professor with the PLA National Defense University, rear admiral in the PLA navy and a frequent commentator on military affairs for CCTV and other media, with many admiring fans and a reputation for adjusting his military conflict outcome predictions after the opposite turns out to be the case.
When the United States invaded Iraq in early 2003, Zhang took to the media circuit with the confident assertion that the invading forces would remain locked in a battle of attrition for years. In one interview with CCTV, Zhang said that the people of Iraq had the Hussein family's back, and the country's army was well-equipped to fend off the four countries which took part in the initial invasion phase; Baghdad fell the following day and pictures of Saddam Hussein were burnt in the streets.
With the uprising in Libya, a certified “old friend of the Chinese people”, still a major focus in Chinese news (one BBS thread tracking the situation in the country has gathered well over 5,000 pages of comments since it was set up in late May) Zhang, too, was back in the spotlight this month after an interview in early August, again with CCTV. This time, netizens are wondering how someone so high-ranking could be so wrong. The answer: he's just doing his job.
Or as Xin Haiguang, a columnist for different media, put it on Weibo [zh]:
千山万岳 他得存在就是为了迷惑对手，看来他的工作很成功(8月25日 15:22)
徐启胜 哈哈，我记得03年的时候，他说美军攻陷巴格达也没事。 伊拉克军民会坚持巷战，坚持很久。谁知道，第二天政府垮台，老百姓强政府财产。这哥们的话，听听而已，不知道他是真不懂还是和谐发言。(8月25日 15:23)
郑老师说 幕僚是不允许上电视的。。。(8月25日 15:25)
Hugo羽軍 你听到的，和他给决策层分析的，根本不是一回事(8月25日 15:55)
韩砫1 他就是个军队王勇平，其实他不傻，而是为了生活装傻。(8月25日 19:44)
老湿和尚6世 好吧,张将军已经在电视上活跃好多年了,谁能预测一下,他还能再活跃几年? (8月25日 20:06)
春霁秋髓 我认为张将军再活跃到明年这个时候不是问题(8月25日 20:20)
- He only exists to confuse the enemy, and apparently he's quite successful at it.
- Hah, I remember in 2003 when he said it wasn't a problem that the Americans had captured Baghdad, that the Iraqi soldiers would be able to persist in street warfare for quite some time. Who knew that the government would collapse the following day and that the people would make off with all that government property. You can listen to what this guy has to say, but I can't tell if he just doesn't get it or if he's toeing the harmonious line.
- Party policy advisors aren't allowed to go on TV…
- What you hear and the analysis he gives to policymakers, aren't the same thing.
- He's like the military version of Wang Yongping: he's not stupid, he just acts stupid for a living.
- Okay, so the old admiral has been appearing on TV for years now, anyone want to guess how much longer he'll be able to hold on?
- I don't think it'll be a problem for rear admiral Zhang to stay through to this time next year.
CCTV later called Zhang back to get his response to the widespread criticism of his misdiagnosis of the situation in Libya, to which in part he said:
Zhang has not found a receptive audience on Weibo [zh], where comments are nearly unanimous in mocking him:
韩都衣舍_Andrew秦 独裁者是不的人心的，表演无处不在 (8月26日 21:57)
科学自由剑 他如果去朝鲜，也会被朝鲜人民欺骗吗？我在一个视频中看到，朝鲜人民谈到伟大的金将军的时候，那真是感激感动的流泪啊。(8月26日 22:00)
哈皮小木头 不知道中国人民演技如何？(8月26日 22:06)
熊信之 建议授予张召忠同志人民艺术家称号！(8月26日 22:08)
卢山同学 哈哈，想不想看看中国人民的表演？(8月26日 22:11)
i南昌 您才是奥斯卡影帝！~(8月26日 22:12)
刘步尘 要说利比亚人民会表演，也不只在你一个人跟前表演，我们也看到了。为什么大家都能看得清楚，唯独将军看不清楚，就因为这身将军服吗？(8月26日 22:19)
- Dictators don't win the hearts and minds of people, all there is is just acting.
- If he were to go to North Korea, would he be fooled by the North Korean people, too? I once saw a video online of North Korean people talking about the Great General Kim, and they were truly moved to tears!
- Well now I just wonder how well the Chinese people are at acting.
- I recommend that comrade Zhang Zhaozhong be awarded the title of Actor of the People!
- Hah, does he want to see how well the Chinese people can act?
- Give this guy an Oscar!
- Regarding the acting ability of the Libyan people, they don't just perform when they're in front of you. We see it too. Why is it that what everyone can see so clearly is only difficult to grasp for generals in the military? Just because they're wearing a uniform?
杨吉平8829 张将军也有阴沟里翻船的时候！不过张将军可能也有苦衷，毕竟他代表的是中国官方或者是军方的态度，不可能自己在媒体上乱讲，对吧？(8月26日 22:23)
喂嘿 影射我兲朝?(8月27日 18:59)
观澜听雨声 西方国家民众的感受难道都是错的？不要把思维定位在与西方的对立上。独裁者是罪有应得，如果我们对独裁者抱有同情心，其实就是对被压迫的人民的伤害。被骗之说只是对其漠视人民脱责。(8月27日 19:41)
漫步自游 哪个独裁专制的国家人民不是这样，他们不是表演，他们是在求生存！斯大林是这样、毛文革是这样、金在肏是这样、萨达姆是这样、胡……(8月27日 19:54)
- Army generals sometimes fall flat on their faces, too! Although, Rear Admiral Zhang might not want to talk about his failures, because he does after represent the official stance of Chinese officials and the military. There's no way they'd let him go say whatever he likes on TV, is there?
- Such is the state of China's so-called experts nowadays, not a word of truth comes out of their mouths. Even our kids in high school now know that the corrupt dictator Gaddafi is done in for. This expert is an idiot.
- Maybe he was actually alluding to China?
- Are we supposed to believe that the people in Western countries are totally mistaken about the situation? It's time to stop thinking about things from the view opposite whatever it is people in the West think. Dictators deserve what they get. Any sympathy we show a dictator is just harm done on the people being oppressed. As for saying that he was lied to, that's just him trying to avoid taking responsibility for all the people laughing at him now.
- This is just how people are under any dictator. They're not acting, they're just trying to survive! It was like that under Stalin and under Mao during the Cultural Revolution. It's like that in fucking North Korea, just as it was under Saddam, even now under Hu…….
一宁爸爸 其实中国人民表演水平更高(8月27日 20:09)
原来8921 判断的依据就是人民的表现吗？(8月27日 20:38)
勤奋的屋檐伟岸 中国也有十多亿人在等着机会表演呢(8月27日 21:13)
清欢的围脖儿 他辞职不？(8月27日 23:11)
一粒米的距离 希望他对中国的未来预测准一些。。。(8月28日 08:26)
- Actually, the Chinese people are far better actors than the Libyans.
- He wouldn't happen to be basing his judgments on the way we act, would he?
- Come on, China has over a billion people of its own just waiting for a chance to start acting.
- Has he resigned yet?
Amid all the discussion now underway online of the plight of China's dear old friend Gaddafi and the country's future relationship with Libya, a lot has focused on the fact that opposition leaders in Libya were quite vocal this past week in saying that nations which recognize – yet in China's case, oppose – their authority will be rewarded with contracts for oil production and other projects involved in rebuilding the country, even singling China out. China may have been a big winner in post-Saddam Iraq, but so far all it seems to have done is send one humanitarian aid package to countries now taking in Libyan refugees.
At the Phoenix News blog portal, international relations and legal scholar and college instructor Kai Shengli wrote last week [zh] that China now finds itself stuck between a rock and its support for the losing side:
The final lesson [from the war in Libya] relates to China. Looking this from the perspective of competition between the major powers, China is the only loser among them. NATO, led by France, the United States and Britain, has been carrying out attacks on Gaddafi's regime all throughout this, and Russia changed its stance quite early on, calling for Gaddafi to step down and for sanctions against the country. China is the only major power which hasn't yet said definitively that it stands on the side of the winners in Libya. As for why that is, one possible explanation is a lapse in strategic judgment.
Another is that it worries what the domestic consequences might be if it were seen to be in support of a democratic process. Regardless of the reason, however, now that the opposition in Libya are winning the fight, they see that a there's a price that needs to be paid. The new regime in Libya won't take any direct action against far-off China as a result, particularly when it considers that it might still need China's help in economic rebuilding of the country. Politically, however, the new regime will unquestionably treat each major power differently, and China will have to suffer as a result of its strategic moves and erroneous decisions.
This is the key lesson which Chinese diplomats ought to learn from this. Libya also is not an isolated example; there was Sudan before this and there could well be other countries in the future. How it can free itself from the bindings of domestic political ideology and demonstrate a broader and more forward-looking strategy as well as preemptive capability is the major challenge for the future of Chinese diplomacy.
This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.