US Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger delivered a speech, titled “The Importance of Being Candid,” in Putonghua on Friday in a video conference hosted by London-based think tank Policy Exchange, in which he lashed out at China’s system.
Pottinger used Putonghua to deliver his speech. This was out of the aim to tell audiences that he knows China well and emphasize on his authority on China-related topics. The majority of people in Western society don’t speak Chinese, and would be more inclined to believe Pottinger is an authority after his long speech in relatively fluent Putonghua and thus believe in his judgments on China. Besides, Pottinger’s speech in Putonghua also targets overseas Chinese, trying to fan the flames among them to instigate their dislike of China – so as to realize the White House’s political goal of creating division.
There are less than two weeks to go before the Election Day. Pottinger’s move shows that the Trump administration still prefers to make a fuss about China. On the one hand, the White House continues to call for a tough stance against China among its allies. On the other hand, the move is part of the campaign to use China as scapegoat for the policy failures since US President Donald Trump took office.
According to the Voice of America Chinese site, Pottinger said in the Q&A section that “candidly” confronting China could be the political legacy of Trump, which could change the US’ foreign policy for quite a long time in the future. Such words show that Pottinger wants to embellish Trump’s recklessness to gain some points for the president before November 3.
Pottinger was obviously defending the Trump administration, wishing that people could view Trump more positively in terms of foreign policy when they make their final decision in the vote. In fact, the US’ policies toward China in recent years have been far from being reciprocal and candid. Instead, those policies are dissembling and nonreciprocal. Pottinger’s remarks have exactly proved such dissemblance.
Having worked in China for nearly 10 years as a correspondent, Pottinger is indeed to some extent qualified to speak on China-related topics. But this doesn’t mean that his appeal is righteous. US politicians never abandon viewing China through tinted glasses. Against the current backdrop, there could be a rise of a number of politicians in the US who can speak Putonghua but are severely biased and farfetched in attitude toward China.
Those politicians may indeed have advantage in language skills, but they lack self-reflection – they speak hollow words while misunderstanding and disrespecting China’s culture as well as political system. This being the case, Putonghua as a tool would make them more politically harmful. If this kind of people participate more in Washington’s China policy making, it won’t be good news for China-US relations.
Judgments on China of Pottinger, and his likes, are conform to the anti-China political atmosphere in the US, therefore they manage to make more political gains. The current politics in the US would probably provide a chance for more of this kind of speculative so-called China hands. This would be bad luck for the US, as real experts studying China will be more and more marginalized with rational voices about China being increasingly suppressed.
The China-US relations are vital for today’s world. Many people hope to see a stable political relationship between the world’s two largest countries rather than a sharp decline in their ties. Relying on the speculative China hands will further mislead the US’ policies toward China, putting the China-US ties on a bumpier road.
The author is professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University. Global Times