As China Sits, America Stands Off to the Side

In the midst of a doomsday-like financial crisis, London’s G-20 summit meeting is actively creating an impression of multi-national cooperation, but what’s interesting is an edited photograph published by the AP showing American President Obama, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, and Russian President Medvedev bunched together in the back row, while Chinese Chairman Hu Jin-Tao stately sits in front, as if he were the focus of the event.

This picture means a great deal to China. Chinese people deeply believe in symbolic politics and strict social-class separation. Ancient emperors did not only have their own color, there were also strict regulations for the attire and accommodations of every official from top to bottom. The animal figures on rooftops that warded off evil were even included in these regulations. There was no room for leniency and offenders risked death. Even among commoners, or even within households, the matter of host and guests’ seating, as well as positions for taking pictures, was a matter requiring great attention.

China, which strictly observes rules of seniority, knows to observe rules of when to sit and when to stand. Maybe the young Obama thinks this doesn’t matter, but Hu Jin-Tao surely knows that it matters. A few years back, who could have imagined such a scenario of a Chinese leader seated in the foreground while the American leader stands behind?

America is the culprit and epicenter of the financial crisis, and now the world looks to China, hoping for the best and praying against the worst. Whether or not it will be able to heave a sigh of relief is directly related to China’s economic growth this year. China is America’s greatest creditor and before the summit meeting Wen Jia-Bao twice expressed concern over America’s credit, forcing Obama to take a stand and reply. America still has a great headache over the Chinese leaders’ mistrust of the American dollar, and Hu Jin-Tao has not allowed Hong Kong and Macau onto the duty-free gray list. Giving China both face and benefit, Obama has implored France to yield to her.

China is the world’s third great economic entity, and a steadying weight in the world economy, but she still knows how to stamp her feet.

Situations are more powerful than people, and who, among America, England, Italy, France, or Russia, dares to tweak the Chinese tiger’s whiskers? Every time France expresses sympathy toward Tibetan independence, all China has to do is show off its huge Airbus order, causing France untold pain. In the meeting between Hu Jin-Tao and Sarkozy, France again denied any secret agreements regarding Tibet, but it was commonly held that Sarkozy lost much face.

China sits and the capitalist boss stands off to one side. At this moment, economic might makes right, and should there be a card labeled “ideology” on the political negotiation table, then the other powers would not even be qualified to be in the background.

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