To go or not to go?“Nalai zhuyi” in Chinese is the principle of taking whatever is useful. It’s like benchmarking, grabbing good elements that one sees in others and modifying them to accommodate your own situation.
Deng Xiaoping, the grand architect of China’s opening to the outside world and economic reforms, was a master of “nalai zhuyi.” To overcome the inefficiencies of the socialist planned economy, he introduced market capitalism in China.
When pointedly asked whether China could still consider itself a socialist state, Deng responded that the market was not an exclusive property of capitalism. By embracing the market economy, China could attain today’s growth.
Current Chinese President Xi Jinping is just as good at “nalai zhuyi” as Deng. He emphasizes multilateralism in foreign policy. China is active in international activities such as the United Nations.
When China moves within the framework of international organizations, other countries don’t perceive China’s emergence as a superpower as a threat.
It is a tactic China learned from the United States.
By initiating the establishment of the United Nations, the United States put restrictions on its own actions.
As long as the United States abides by international norms, other countries are less likely to feel threatened by its power.
Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai recently mentioned that Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit and his attending of the U.N. General Assembly next month were of similar significance. In the past, a Chinese leader would have focused on the U.S. visit and considered the U.N. activities secondary.
In the Xi Jinping era, China took a cue from international events and made two domestic decisions using “nalai zhuyi.”
The first is last year’s designation of Dec. 13 as a national memorial day to commemorate those killed by Japanese aggressors during the Nanjing Massacre. Previously, the day was commemorated at the municipal level in Nanjing, but now it is a national occasion.
The designation was inspired by the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.
The international community pledges not to forget the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the six million Jewish victims of Hitler’s genocide.
The other is the legislation to designate the Sept. 3 Victory Day of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. Marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, China plans to hold a large-scale military parade in Tiananmen Square and it is inviting foreign leaders to Beijing.
Russia’s military parade in Red Square in Moscow on May 9 to celebrate its victory over Germany during World War II was a benchmark for China’s parade.
But with only three weeks until the Tiananmen Square military parade, China is concerned that the event could be a half-baked celebration.
Not many RSVPs from world leaders have come in so far. While about 50 invitations were sent, only the Russian and Mongolian presidents have confirmed they are coming.
Consequently, President Park Geun-hye is in a dilemma.
There are two major concerns. The first is the pressure on Japan as the occasion celebrates China’s victory, which means Japan’s defeat. The other is that attending the event may make the Korean president look like a sidekick to China as China boasts its state-of-the-art military weaponry.
China needs to clear these two concerns if it wants to make the Sept. 3 military parade a success. First of all, Beijing needs to clarify that the justification for this event is an opposition to the Japanese militarism of the past.
Of course, it may include a message of vigilance over the Shinzo Abe government’s conservative swing to the right.
But it should not be overly antagonistic towards Japan as a whole. Xi Jinping’s message through this military parade should be geared toward the future, a renewed pledge not to forget the past and to maintain peace at all costs.
Also, Beijing should make a subtle welcome to foreign leaders and clearly show that it is not asking them to applaud China’s military strength.
Many still remember China’s astonishingly poor hospitality during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
U.S. President George W. Bush and more than 100 global leaders invited to the opening ceremony had to wait in line for over 30 minutes to meet then-president Hu Jintao.
They were drenched in sweat, watching the ceremony in extreme heat. Some had to repair air-conditioned restrooms. It was later learned that the seats for the Chinese leaders had air conditioning.
China must not make foreign leaders surround Xi Jinping and clap on cue as if they are sidekicks.
It would not just mitigate the impact of the event but also negatively affect China’s reputation.
From Mao Zedong’s basketcase of East Asia, China is reinventing itself as a superpower under Xi Jinping’s leadership. China needs to give confidence that it can stick to sophisticated protocol and offer generosity if it expects the world to embrace it. In that case, President Park Geun-hye has no reason to hesitate attending the event. JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 12, Page 32
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.
by You Sang-chul