An interesting shoving match is developing between the Americans and the Chinese over the internet. The Chinese reaction to Hillary Clinton’s speech calling for internet freedom around the world has been predictably fierce. But, equally interesting I think, is the question of why Hillary chose to weigh in on this subject, in a way that was bound to antagonise the Chinese. The Google row made her speech pertinent, of course. But I also know that there has been fretting – even among some Democrats – that a succession of actions by the Obama administration has given the impression of American weakness to the Chinese. So there might be a demand to show a slightly tougher side to US policy.
What are these alleged acts of weakness? Here are some, in no particular order: 1) Hillary Clinton says, early in the administration, that she is not going to let human-rights issues interfere with dialogue on other important issues. This message is re-enforced by Nancy Pelosi’s refusal, around the same time, to present the Chinese with a list of imprisoned dissidents. 2) Hillary Clinton tells the Chinese that she hopes that they keep buying US Treasury bonds. 3) The Obama administration does not make much of a fuss when the president’s town-hall meeting in China is censored on Chinese television. 4) The Americans agree to a communique after the Beijing trip which includes a phrase about China’s “core interests” – language that refers to Taiwan that the US has hitherto resisted. 5) The Obama administration hesitates to announce arms-sales to Taiwan and does not make much fuss, publicly, about cyber-security issues. Read more