I mentioned yesterday the oddity of a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman welcoming Barack Obama to China with a triple-backflip metaphor linking Chairman Mao to Abraham Lincoln, since both Lincoln and Mao fought against secessionist rebels. From a reader with experience in China and America this response:

"Thank you for pointing out the strange logic of the foreign ministry spokesman in this bizarre lecture to President Obama. I have been living in the U.S. for twenty years and as a citizen for the last ten, but i often can't help feel ashamed often by remarks like these.

"I know I shouldn't, but I lived my first 26 years in this great country [China] after all. What a shame it is represented by such cynical officials. I say cynical because I think they often know better than what they say. They say it that way because it is not only safe but potentially profitable politically. They don't really care about the effect of their remarks globally. Their audience is inside the ministry and the government. I once had lunch with [a very prominent government official], while he was [in an important position] in the Washington embassy. He said when he wrote reports to the ministry, he needed to know what the ministry's opinion was so he would not be too out of line.

"Maybe this is true for all bureaucracies, but it is practiced to such a degree for so long in China that it is one of its most deep-rooted diseases. Reading the histories of Qing and Republic of China, once sees many examples of how officials often opted for the politically safe path at the expense of national interests. Today, one also sees the same practice in dealing with tough political issues such as ethnic tension. Because harsh measures and blaming the "splittists" is always safe and potentially rewarding for their careers, they become the only chosen policy options, even when that create more problems for the county in the future and draw international scolding."

Let me say that this rings 100% true to my observation of the situation. Individuals are often very sophisticated about outside realities; the system keeps their attention directed inward. 

My discussion of this and related Obama/China questions this afternoon on All Things Considered, with Guy Raz, here.

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