[OUTLOOK]A bewildered giant is lashing outWe have been greatly disappointed in China lately for several reasons. First, China has shown inconsistency in its handling of the issue of North Korean asylum-seekers, wavering between hard-line policies to pacify North Korea and its vow to follow humanitarian principles because of international criticism. In the end, North Korean asylum-seekers who were dragged out of the South Korean Consulate in Beijing by Chinese police officers were allowed to fly to Seoul as they wished.
But China showed no consistent principles or clear objectives for its actions during the entire process and only ended up alienating both North Korea and international society.
The second disappointment in China comes from its media's incomprehensible attitude in covering the World Cup finals. At first, the Chinese media were extremely positive in their portrayal of South Korea and our efforts to host the World Cup. But as the South Korean team kept on adding one European soccer power after another to its trophy case, the Chinese newspapers unanimously started to talk about foul play and suggested that there was a conspiracy involving referees without suggesting what evidence might support those claims. In these reports, the Chinese were far from being fair, let alone sympathetic, to South Korea.
Their coverage was different from that of other newspapers in other countries that objected to the controversial referee decisions. While some European media questioned some calls, they agreed that the South Koreans well deserved their victories. The Chinese gave the impression that they were putting out intentionally malicious propaganda that denied the Korean victories.
China has failed to show the maturity it should have as a big country both concerning the North Korean asylum-seekers and its World Cup media coverage. The biggest reason for such disappointing failures comes from China's identity crisis.
In today's China, the economy and politics have now become almost incompatible. Recently China has shown an eagerness to join the global market economy as evidenced by its accession to the World Trade Organization. But its politics still center on a one-party dictatorship. Despite the signs that indicate otherwise, China's government still refuses to acknowledge that its economy is no longer a state-run socialist one, insisting on the term "Chinese socialism." Without a clear definition or acceptance of its identity as it is, China cannot help experiencing an internal clash of values.
China has shown a vague and volatile attitude on the North Korean asylum-seekers because it is not sure of what to do itself. Had it had a firm belief in the protection of human rights and dignity, it would not have tried to repatriate North Korean defectors. Had it been confident of its authority, it would not have acted so sensitively to international, especially American, reactions.
China ended up making a muddle out of the North Korean refugee issue because it was on a roller coaster of ethical values, driven by the clash between nominal socialism and practical capitalism.
The Chinese media coverage of the World Cup finals was a result of a society yet undemocratized. If the Chinese thought that China's honor had been sullied because its soccer team did poorly in the World Cup while South Korea did better, and if it thought that degrading South Korea would improve matters, it was wrong. By unfairly attacking South Korea's reputation, it damaged its own. Chinese media should keep in mind that China's refusal to give up its present one-party dictatorship is not helpful to the country's status in the international community.
China has traditionally always thought of itself as the center of the world. Whether China will truly become a central figure in international society is not yet clear. If China wants to start by exercising its leadership in Asia, it will first have to establish its identity and values and overcome its image as a selfish country. Historically, all countries that have taken a leading role in the world have had strong beliefs and an international philosophy. These countries only became leaders when other countries were persuaded that the beliefs and philosophies they espoused were not only for their own national interests but for the well-being of others as well.
What China should do now is not confine its efforts to achieving economic growth, but take a historic decision to repair its political discrepancies.
The change in China's leadership expected later this year should not be merely a change of faces but a change from an unclear present to a future based on a firmly established modern identity.
The writer is the president of the Institute of Social Sciences.
by Kim Kyung-won