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China: If This is Neocolonialism, Bring It

Media professional and current events columnist Zhang Wen on current US ambassador to China Gary Locke‘s popularity among Chinese netizens due to such exotic behavior as buying his own coffee and flying economic class.

Zhang starts with CCTV host Rui Chenggang's attempt to humiliate Locke earlier this month at a Davos summit but tries to take on the view, also popular online, that Locke's unintended soft power is one carefully orchestrated scheme:




An essay warning that Gary Locke is bringing American ‘neocolonialism’ to China has been heavily circulated online these past few days. Reading it gives one the feeling that time is flowing backwards, and the antiquated views and vocabulary used hark back to the Communist camp of the Cold War era, full of hostility toward the United States.

The writer of the piece completely disregards the overall trend of cooperation between states throughout the world, as well as the key point of the win-win situation in the economic between China and the United States. The article manages to scorn the United States for its “bloodthirsty ambition” in aspects ranging from politics, economics, military affairs and religion, saying the USA is set to turn the entire world into “an animal kindgom under the law of the jungle.”

I'm not surprised by the outdated views held by its author, many people like him can still be found in China today, with a brain that hasn't managed to keep up with the changing times, almost seeming to have stopped growing at some point during the Cold War. I think, though, that this kind of thinking comes from isolation with the rest of the world, and it's easy to notice that the writer knows little about the world or the United States, and despite this has managed to fill his head with hostile rage.

Photo composite of Locke (top) and Rui from Weibo user Cheng Zhongshan.



The writer sees the appointment of Locke as the US ambassador to China as a sneaky attempt to ‘use Chinese against China, with the motive being to incite chaos in Chinese politics.’ The writer even equates the fact that Locke travels without a detail with the ethos of the early communists of “avoiding excess and putting on airs.” The writer then goes on to say that Locke's actions were not meant to serve as an example for Chinese officials, but rather “to win America the hearts and minds of the Chinese and strengthen their servility to all things foreign, and from there to call upon public sentiment to widely support strong America here in China, to divide and split China and smash its ideology.”

This statement alone is enough to prove that the writer lacks even the most rudimentary understanding of the American people, and from there he then goes on to jump to conclusions. In a recent interview with Caixin Media, Locke said that he's quite surprised with how popular he's become with average Chinese citizens. “I didn't realize that someone was taking a photo of my daughter and me (while he was ordering his own coffee at a Starbucks in Seattle). In fact, you'll see that many American officials act just as freely, and personally I happen to enjoy doing things for myself, that's just my style.”




Locke also offered an explanation why he didn't fly business class to the World Economic Forum's Summer Davos in Dalian earlier this month: “The US government's rule is that if a flight will last more than 12 hours, or is booked last-minute or for the following day, then you can sit in business class. When I was Secretary of Commerce, I usually sat in business or economy class.”

In other words, Locke didn't intend any hostility, or to put on a “show.” What the writer interpreted as “acting” as one of the people was actually just a rule by which officials must comply under the current American system. Those who don't comply, have problems. Think about it, would Locke dare and try and do like Chinese officials do, having police clear the roads and bring crowds out to cheer their arrival? There's no way the American public would let something like that go, and I think that if he did try it what he would get is dismissed and sent back home to “tend the farm.”

An American ambassador is just doing his job, yet ends up interpreted as “symbolizing a surge in neocolonialism in the information age, and a head-on collision between China and the United States in the ideological sphere.” Is there anything in the world more absurd?

Of course, this is just the result of ignorance, but even more so of guilt and lack of confidence. It could be “neocolonialism” or just “old colonialism,” either way it's the stronger side “violating” the weaker party. When in fact, the writer is also admitting the power of American culture and values, and the weakness of ours. If we weren't the weaker side, what would we have to worry about being “colonized”?



What I find comforting, and unsurprising, is that the response of many Chinese netizens to the American “neocolonialism” that Locke represents is: I don't mind. Some have even said that they “warmly welcome” it. People are increasingly able to see things clearly, and outdated ideological and Cold War-era thinking are becoming increasingly unpopular.

1 comment

  • zhuzidi

    Rui Chenggang is a pompous ass and closet nationalist. I think anyone that’s seen him on CCTV knows this. It’s not really worth the time discussing him.

    Honestly I thought this was gonna be about “neocolonialism” in Africa or something. But buying some coffee? Seriously?

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