Obama’s Absence at Military Parade Shows a Touch of Pettiness

On Sept. 3, a military parade was held in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. As one of several events being held to commemorate the victory, the parade was a grand and stately display of how the Chinese people stand shoulder to shoulder with people all over the world in their will, resolve, and capability to safeguard peace. At the same time, the ceremony also was a wake-up call for people of every nation to better take to heart the lessons learned from history, bring together greater common understanding and positive energy, and be even more steadfast in protecting and encouraging world peace. For these reasons, the Chinese-hosted event received widespread support, with the leaders of 31 other nations and 10 international and regional institutions in attendance at the military parade, altogether hailing from five different continents.

Notably, U.S. President Barack Obama was absent from the main platform. Still, this is no reason to doubt the Americans’ desire and resolve in valuing peace and pursuing justice. As a crucial force that helped decide victory in the World Anti-Fascist War 70 years ago, the American people paid a terrible price and made enormous contributions in service of obtaining that victory. We should similarly not suspect the U.S. government of overlooking or marginalizing the sacrifices and contributions made by the Chinese people toward gaining victory during World War II. After all, it was only shortly before the military parade that U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice visited China and repeatedly conveyed that President Obama and the United States think highly of the Chinese people’s great contributions during World War II and the deep friendship forged between the two nations.

But as friends or partners, common convention dictates that aid should be sent in times of need, and joy should be shared in times of celebration. Today, China is holding a grand commemoration of victory in the War of Resistance, and for such a happy occasion, it is reasonable for well-wishing friends to join in the festivities when they can lay claim to that same victory. While U.S. leaders did not make an appearance at the military parade, despite a lack of prior obligations, perhaps we should not read too much into things. But for President Obama, who has expressed on many occasions his willingness to help maintain the stable development of relations between the United States and China, one cannot help but feel it is a shame. In comparison to the leaders of other nations involved in World War II who were happy to attend, such a regrettable outcome casts U.S.-Chinese amity in a rather wan light. Moreover, despite China’s proposal of a new model of great power relations between the two nations based on less conflict and confrontation and on greater mutual respect, cooperation, and mutual benefit, the United States has made little effort to reciprocate.

The reason for this is that the United States has yet to adjust its mentality in the face of an increasingly powerful China and acclimatize itself to standing eye-to-eye with emerging nations. Over the past 70 years, China has not only continually been an active contributor to safeguarding world peace but has also accomplished feats of economic development that have awed the world, in one stride becoming the world’s second largest economy with its overall power and international influence ever on the rise. When faced with the 2008 financial crisis and increasingly glaring problems on a global scale, China proactively participated in efforts to respond, playing a key constructive role and demonstrating the mien of a responsible power. The United States always expects much from the constantly growing China in terms of sharing the burdens of duty and responsibility, but when it comes to sharing authority and reaping dividends, the United States tends to adopt the conservative air of a vested interest. Its stubborn obstructionism in attempts to reform the International Monetary Fund’s outmoded voting share schemes is one such example and is another fundamental reason why U.S.-China relations have experienced some turbulence of late.

In sum, with a little less apprehension and wariness and a little more trust and cooperation, the United States will be able to show the rest of the world the magnanimity of a superpower, reduce the occurrence of regrettable situations, and gain very tangible benefits for itself. The U.S.-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral dynamic relationships in the world today — the extent of its influence having long since surpassed that typical of relations between two nations. A healthy and stable progression forward in their relationship will be a boon to not just their people but also the world population at large. And to realize such a goal, it will be necessary to go with the flow in the course of history and the changing of the age. We must accept realities as they are and use communication and dialogue to strengthen trust, dispel doubts, and deepen cooperation to ensure that the U.S.-China relationship stays on the right track toward becoming a new model of relations between great powers.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of World Economics and Politics.

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