My trip with my son Jerray to China last month was enjoyable, exciting for him and amazing for me. Jerray took 800 pictures which I hope he will talk about somewhere but what I would like to talk about here is a social term, ‘xiaosan’, which I heard and read so frequently in this trip in China and outside of China, especially on Internet blogs, newspapers, television and even in movies. I will not keep you in suspense on the meaning of this word, if you promise to read the entire article till the end, which is focused on a serious matter.
‘Xiaosan’ means ‘number three’ or ‘little three’ in Mandarin but it is the most used word in the media world-wide today simply because it is a wicked, powerful and frightful word that wrecks marriages, brings about corruption, destroys governments and endangers foreign relations such as the US-China relationship. Recently, the newspapers have reported that the divorce rate in China is rising rapidly and the primary culprit is ‘xiaosan’- a third party coming into a marriage and breaking it. Xiaosan is also often the cause for inducing betrayal and corruption exemplified by chateaus or secret apartments occupied by xiaosans paid with embezzled funds. The notorious on-going trials of Bo and many other corrupted high officials in China reveal that the xiaosan phenomenon was rampant: articles, books and movies began to talk about ‘xiaosan’ and how to deal with xiaosan, becoming best sellers. Frequent spying and testing your partner’s (employees in the businesses) cell phones and emails are the minimum security measures recommended. The hot US stories such as sexting by Anthony Weiner, candidate for New York Mayor, and the high profile divorce of Wendy Deng and Rupert Murdoch all got into the xiaosan gossip mills. The question whether Wendy was a xiaosan herself breaking the Murdoch marriage drew a huge debate in the Internet.
Now what has ‘xiaosan’ got to do with US-China relation, you would wonder? Please do read on.
Mark Leonard, a writer and a journalist, the author of the best seller, Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century (2005, translated into 19 languages) and What Does China Think (2008, translated into 14 languages), wrote a long essay published in Foreign Affairs (9/06/2013). The essay is entitled “Why Convergence Breeds Conflict – Growing More Similar Will Push China and The United States Apart” (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139650/mark-leonard/why-convergence-breeds-conflict). Many good observations and analyses were presented in the essay but its conclusion captured by the title is totally illogical in my opinion. Instead of believing that the two countries growing more similar is the cause for pushing them apart, I rather suppose that the two countries have not examined their similarities diligently enough, through historical facts and present developments, to discover and nurture a warm relationship. I further suppose that the two countries are marching on a dangerous path guided by erroneous foreign policies (Clinton initiated them, Kerry seems to continue the same mistake) derived from a worst-case scenario analysis based on faulty assumptions due to a lack of honest historical perspective.
One may use marriage as a metaphor for the US-China relationship, since the form and style of marriage has gone through a lot of changes in many ways over the last 150 years and so did the US-China relationship. Evolving from two unrelated parties in the world arena to a ‘G2’ relationship (yet to be seen as a workable one) may be simply viewed as two partners getting married, going through growing and adjustment pains; in time, more similarities developed but some intrinsic differences also persisted. Whether the relationship will work or break apart, in the simplistic view, depends on how the two partners examine their similarities and recognize their differences for the benefit of the relationship and the world.
Historically, the United States did not engage in any meaningful relationship with China or the Chinese people when China was weak and victimized by the Western powers and an imperialistic Japan. The relationship started when China woke up to reality seeking a revolution to form a republic nation. The United States was sympathetic and her history and governance served as a model, but the US-China relationship was never close and warm until the matchmaker WW II arrived. Through WW II, China and the United States were true allies in every sense, saving each other’s lives on many battle grounds fighting a common enemy, Japan (and Germany). This relationship was deeply memorized by all Chinese of that era and could not be wiped out even till today by any effort between the Soviet Union and the early Chinese communist regime. The United States made a strategic mistake by not accepting China as a whole to force a coalition government which could have evolved into a Chinese republic more or less in between a democratic and a socialist country. The two Chinese factions unfortunately also made strategic errors; instead of treating the dispute as merely an internal affair, they rather clung to two opposing external partners, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Then the external partners made a settlement that was very arbitrary and likely selfish, treating China as if she was a defeated country, dividing her in two; this treatment did not receive the agreement of either Chinese factions and the settlement was far worse than the real defeated aggressor, Japan, which managed to keep her sovereignty intact. The settlement not only caused China to be divided but worst of all caused hundreds of millions of Chinese people to undergo several decades of miserable life. The generous US aid helped Japan and Taiwan to recover fast from WW II but her relationship with the vast majority of Chinese people went through decades of dark ages. This part of history should be recognized and reconciled by both the United States and China going forward in a relationship.
Mark described a “Chimerica” relationship when China has divorced from Soviet style communism, pursuing economic growth under political stability. He described the two countries as different as a lock and key, but symbiotic and complementary during the ‘Chimerica’ period. In my opinion, the relationship worked when the United States had a secure ‘lock’ on the world and China was practicing Deng’s low ‘key’ philosophy. As time progresses, the United States’ lock is not so secure any more, while the 9/11 attack and Middle East wars changed the image of the United States. The United States, even as a superpower advocating democracy, lost the support of the UN (Mark stated that the US finds many world organizations not workable) and relied on military power to settle issues; by contrast, China made more friends in the world and gained the support of the UN. So the ‘Key’ has become bigger than the ‘Lock’. In the marriage metaphor or G2 scenario, it is like two bread winners in the family who must make adjustments when their earning power and external circles change. If they want to keep a warm relationship, they must make adjustments for mutual benefit. Mark talked about “trading places” and “double bypasses” but what is really needed is that they must examine their similarities and intrinsic differences to find more symbiotic and complementary opportunities. This is not a chess game nor a go game as mentioned in Mark’s essay but a bridge game: they need to develop a communication convention to improve their mutual understanding. G2 partners are bridge partners: when the world sees that there is a G2 language, a convention all players understand, there will be no fear or dispute in the game. The United States and China should begin practicing a two-party bridge (there is a honeymoon bridge in real card games) to establish the convention, the language, the rules and each other’s playing style. I am sure through this dialogue, we will find historically, geographically and politically that there are lots of reasons that the technologies and know-how of both countries can be shared and can benefit each other more than helping each other’s GDP growth. The world stands to gain as well.
Mark rightly pointed out that the United States and China are not fighting for ideology rather than status. What then should the two countries do to create a new ‘Chimerica’ era respecting each other’s status? In my opinion, recognizing the history and the current facts is the first step. Each country must examine the past history honestly to revive the warm relationship between the Americans and the Chinese traceable back to WW II at least. Like any relationship, recognizing and respecting history is the basis for building a warm future relationship. There should be no more artificially created slogans or worst-case scenario analyses based on hypothetical and false assumptions. Like a good marriage, a ‘G2’ relationship with good intentions and proper behavior will work for mutual benefit and the world.
Now we can come to the point about why xiaosan is relevant to the US-China relationship. Just as in a marriage, flirting with a third party to provoke the partner is unwise and extremely damaging to a relationship. The current behavior of the United States flirting with Japanese right wing leader Shinzo Abe is exactly a taboo in the Sino-US relationship. A third party who refuses to recognize history - war crimes against China, Korea, Philippines, USA, etc., can never be trusted. A third party historically eyeing China as her supplier, market and subject and savagely applying chemical and bacteria agents to the Chinese civilians and prisoners of war including Americans can never be a fair player. The Chinese is terrified with the word, ‘xiaosan’. Yet, you find the media portraying Japan as the ‘xiaosan’ out to destroy the US-China relationship. Why then is the United States flirting with Abe while still trying to make a G2 work? Abe, encouraged by Clinton even McCain, wanted to revise Japan’s peace constitution to build up her attack military power. No one should be surprised that Obama’s G2 idea still receives a lukewarm response – China is not quite ready, or a new kind of superpower relation should be established. A workable G2 like a marriage must be built on mutual trust and sincerity with patience, never an eye for an eye. Mark described “the more similar China and the United States become, the less they like each other” by referencing Sigmund Freud as “the narcissism of small differences”. I would say, if the case were presented to Freud, he would probably call the flirting insane, since it would lead to breakup, wreckage and a possible world war. Now I can understand why ‘xiaosan’ as a frightful word is used in the US-China relationship, can’t you? Hopefully both Americans and Chinese will have enough wisdom to find a treatment to stop this insanity of flirting with a xiaosan or being flirted by a xiaosan.