Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

National Embarrassments

April 9, 2009

Agam's Gecko Blog
April 7, 2009

It often seems remarkable to me how readily some
countries and leaders will embarrass themselves
on the world stage, while seemingly oblivious to
the way certain of their antics will be seen by
reasonable observers. Even more amazing sometimes
is the way these entities will then frequently
judge themselves as having scored a great victory
over an opponent or success with an issue, while
convincing no one except apparently themselves.
Leaders and officials from countries with a high
dependency on propaganda are particularly prone to this, but not exclusively.

One could find dozens of examples of this from
just the past year over the Tibet - China
dispute. However many times the Dalai Lama, or
elected Tibetan officials in exile, made
conciliatory and logical statements of their
position (consistent for decades already),
Chinese officials would immediately come out with
statements misrepresenting the Tibetan position
(frankly, shamelessly lying about it) and
launching into shrill denunciations and "people's
war" rhetoric that one would have better expected
from a Red Guard 40 years ago than from a
spokesman for a modern country in 2009.

I'm pretty sure that after one of these PRC press
conferences, they all go into a back room and
congratulate each other on winning the round with
their tough talk. The journalists write up their
accounts of the harangue, and the readers come
away with the correct perception that something
akin to the Cultural Revolution is currently in
effect over that poor country, Tibet.

In South Africa, the government's refusal of
entry to the Dalai Lama is still a hot topic
weeks after it became public (most hits on my rss
search feeds are still coming from that country).
By most accounts, the majority of South Africans
are disgusted with their leaders over this issue.
The government had originally claimed that "no
invitation was extended," and that therefore,
"the question of the visa doesn't exist." Faced
with the proof that an invitation had been
extended, they then claimed that His Holiness did
not even apply for the visa since there was, "no
evidence that the Dalai Lama is desirous of entering South Africa..."

This was clearly also a lie. He properly
submitted a visa application after being invited
by fellow Nobel laureates, and it was rejected.
The government then asserted that this refusal
was not due to Chinese pressure — until the
admission of Chinese pressure and threats of dire
consequences by a Chinese embassy official made that excuse inoperative.

Chinese embassy and consular officials have been
quite busy lately. Besides threatening South
Africa, quite a few of them were stalking the
halls of the California legislature a few weeks
ago, lobbying against a broadly supported
bipartisan resolution on Tibet. China must have a
big stick over California, as the bill was
withdrawn. Similar pressure on New Zealand
against a proposed visit by the Dalai Lama has
apparently failed, as the NZ Prime Minister
nipped it in the bud by declaring his happiness
at receiving the Tibetan leader in his country.

Whether these various efforts succeed or fail,
the outcome for China's international image is
the same. The heavy-handed tactics serve only to
diminish China's face, yet the Party comrades
invariably feel they've won something.

The response to the revelations of massive
computer hacking and thievery against more than
100 countries should be equally embarrassing for
any sentient Chinese citizen. What's the official
strategy? As usual, deny and denounce without really addressing the question.

Speaking at a media briefing, Qin did not
directly respond to questions about whether the
network exists and if its actions are supported
by the government. Instead, he said Beijing
opposes criminal activities that compromise
computer networks and criticized the report for claiming otherwise.

"China pays great attention to computer network
security and resolutely opposes and fights any
criminal activity harmful to computer networks,
such as hacking," Qin said. "Some people outside
China now are bent on fabricating lies about so-called Chinese computer spies."

"Their attempt to tarnish China with such lies is doomed to failure," he said.

Of course, the evidence was all published in a
public report, and none of that was answered
here. It's so much easier to just declare it
"lies" about "so-called" spies. One can present
all the proof one wants, and they'll just say you
made it all up to "smear China". Which is exactly
what they did when the video came out showing
their colonial soldiers beating bound Tibetans on
the ground with truncheons (which you can see in
our right sidebar, or view the full ghastly
evidence (again, seriously nauseating content
warning) here. "Lies! It just didn't happen!"
they say. Those Tibetans made it up, they've
become proficient with PhotoShop in exile, or something.

Another coverage of Qin Gang's briefing doesn't
come across any better, even with a slightly
different translation. Here he hooks into the
thievery network's GhostNet moniker and the
spectre of computer viruses doing the Communist
Party's work for it, launching into horror movie
mode with a different ghost and a very different type of virus.

"Nowadays the problem is that there are some
people abroad avidly concocting rumors about
China's so-called Internet espionage," spokesman
Qin Gang told a regular news briefing.

"There's a ghost abroad called the Cold War and a
virus called the China threat," Qin continued,
breaking into English-language phrases to make his meaning clear.

"People possessed by the ghost of the Cold War
constantly issue this China threat virus." [...]

"The attempts of these people to use rumors to
vilify China will never succeed," said the Chinese spokesman Qin.

They won't have to succeed as China's own
leaders, officials and spokespeople do enough to
vilify China all by themselves. For whatever reason, they just can't see it.

Now, while communist dictatorships certainly seem
more inclined to fall into this type of hubris,
it can happen to anybody who doesn't take his job
seriously. A leader who has perhaps been praised
a bit too much can come to believe that,
"Whatever I do or say, it'll be just terrific."
Even so, I was greatly surprised to learn that,
after receiving several very thoughtful, symbolic
and unique gifts from Gordon Brown, President
Obama gave the British Prime Minister a bunch of
American DVD movies (which are not even viewable on European players).

If he was embarrassed, he didn't show it.
Naturally it would be a good lesson to remember
the next time such a situation came up — for
example, "Put a little more thought into it next
time." Well, there have been a couple of big
shindigs over in Europe, and the Obamas have been
wowing them. Barack has been dispensing mass
O-gasms to adoring throngs in three major cities,
travelling with a posse of 500 (plus four
speech-writers and twelve teleprompters). But his
gifts have not gained in thoughtfulness.

When I read that he had presented the Queen with
an Ipod, I thought it was an April Fool's story.
When it was further reported that he'd loaded it
up with video of her American visit as well as
his own speeches, I realized it was actually
true. The excuse soon came: he hasn't yet been
able to staff the White House protocol office. I
suppose that must mean that he sent a go-fer down
to Woolworth's to pick something up, not too
expensive (we have a lot of banks and car makers to buy, you know).

The pop media couldn't get enough of the imminent
meeting of royals last week, endlessly
speculating on what Michelle would wear
(sleeveless or ?). Would she curtsy for Her
Majesty? And all the strict protocols to remember
— under no circumstances does one actually touch
the Queen (except for very gently receiving her
handshake, if it's offered), things like that.
American presidents are never supposed to bow to
anyone, or so they say. Would Barack do a small,
barely perceptible head dip to show his respect
without bowing? CNN for one was just ridiculous with all this fanboy stuff.

They met, and there was the barely perceptible
head dip of respect. Michelle seemed exceedingly
comfortable and familiar with Her Majesty. Well
don't forget, the White House has no protocol
office to speak of, so she probably wasn't
informed. (It has since come out that President
Obama didn't know there was supposed to be a
White House protocol office, which is why he
didn't staff one. The State Department has a
whole section for protocol affairs, but Barack
didn't know it existed and evidently Hillary didn't tell him.)

Everybody who is anybody was at the palace that
evening, as they prepared for the G20 summit with
some high level schmoozing. Wait a minute, what's
this? President Obama greets King Abdullah of
Saudi Arabia with a deep bow from the waist? How will this play back home?

Easy. They simply won't report it. The same media
which plastered pictures of President Bush and
the Saudi king holding hands on every front page
in the country, isn't interested in this one.
Never mind that, as anyone who has spent time in
eastern cultures will tell you, close friends
will often display their friendship that way and
there's nothing sexual about it. I recall my best
friend in Aceh, now deceased, warning me that his
good friend was coming to visit and would I be
embarrassed if he held his hand? He didn't need
to explain, as I already understood from earlier
experience. But he knew that most westerners have
a hang-up about hand-holding, and can't get past
seeing it as a gay thing (which is exactly what
the pop media was trying to do to Bush).

President Bush was given a lot of grief over the
hand hold, which was just silly. Two people
joining hands in no way signifies subservience,
but rather equality and friendship. A deep bow
like the one above signifies nothing other than
subservience. Barack should know better.

Interestingly, there was a similar situation when
President Clinton met Emperor Akihito in 1994.
Mr. Clinton had "inclined his head and shoulders
forward" and it became a big hairy deal.
"Administration officials scurried to insist that
the eager-to-please President had not really done
the unthinkable." The president's "tilt" was
described as something of an "improvisation," and not strictly a "bow-bow."

Well, that was a close one. This one, though,
doesn't appear to be a tilt or an improvisation,
and seems quite striking — in that one doesn't
often see people bow this deeply (outside of a
newly-hired junior Japanese executive meeting the
CEO of his corporation for the first time). And,
as it almost immediately followed the ¾" dip he
gave the Queen, this is rather remarkably....
incredible. Wai Hot Air for the old NYT article
(you can see a short video of both the dip and the bow on this page).

While I was looking for those pictures I stumbled
across something that seems even more lacking in
class. It's just a shot of a White House aide
carrying away one of the gifts the Queen had
given to President Obama. I wanted to take a
closer look, and turned the image around so the
gift was right side up. Here's the detail:

Now I'm no expert, but I highly doubt that when
the Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth
countries gives a gift of state to another head
of state, that she would scrawl "From Queen of
England" over the embossed cover. The only
possible explanation is that an official of the
new hopenchangey administration (or Barack
himself?) wrote that. So they wouldn't forget who
it came from? A further clue is that, during his
joint press conference with Gordon Brown, Obama
referred to him as the Prime Minister of England.
He doesn't really get the distinction between Great Britain and England.

If I'm all wet on this one, I'm sorry. Maybe she
did write that, but I very much doubt it. Perhaps
it's a shame that, after the DVD's for Brown and
the Ipod for Her Majesty, the self-conscious
almost-tilt for her and the very deep bow for the
Saudi king, that this is the most logical
explanation. If you give something very special
to the new American president, they write your
name on it so they won't forget where it came from.

Did he raise Tibet at all when he met Mr. Hu for
the first time? Apparently so. An unidentified
official said that the president expressed
"concern" from a human rights point of view, and
"hoped" for progress in the dialogue with the
Dalai Lama's representatives. Well he's the
master of hope, so let's hope his hope pays off
with a bit of freedom for the Tibetans.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank