What were the leaders thinking?What were the other leaders thinking on Sept. 3 as they sat around President Park Geun-hye gazing upon the massive firepower and goose-stepping of the People’s Liberation Army in Tiananmen Square? We cannot know the answer to that question, of course, but it is possible to imagine how the assortment of autocratic leaders and functionaries viewed the presence of the one-and-only head of state from a liberal democracy and U.S. ally. She sat prominently in a yellow dress, flanked on one side by Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, and Xi himself, while Russian President Vladimir Putin sat just to Xi’s right. What might have been going through their heads?
Xi Jinping: This parade is unmistakable proof of my leadership. Hu Jintao never was comfortable in his role as chairman of the Central Military Commission and allowed himself to be isolated within the Standing Committee while his premier’s family grew fat on the riches of state-owned enterprises. Jiang Zemin looked awkward as he stood in a Mao jacket reviewing the military parade two decades ago. He talked tough on Taiwan, but in the end, he was only an engineer, a technocrat, who had none of the ties to the PLA and the revolutionary generation I have. The anti-Japanese propaganda leading to this moment has been most effective. It will counter the embarrassment of the collapse of our stock market in Shanghai. My father knew that it was the KMT Nationalists who really fought Japan, but he understood how central it was for us to perpetuate the belief that the Chinese Communist Party alone liberated China.
I knew that Western leaders would not come. I was furious with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they could not get anyone from Indonesia, Malaysia or the rest of Asia. Still, Korea’s Park is here. That is most useful. In six summit meetings, we have brought China-Korea relations to a new level.
I know what she wants. She wants me to put more pressure on North Korea. I am very happy to humiliate that dangerous amateur who claims the title of Great Marshall in Pyongyang. We are no longer “lips and teeth” with North Korea. But as we have repeatedly said, our core position on North Korea remains unchanged. We will never put pressure on the North that would risk instability or regime change. I will give symbolic gestures to Seoul - even unprecedented ones - but material pressure on the North will not change.
Park must know this. She is savvy. She handled the crisis last month with North Korea adroitly and reaped domestic political rewards for her performance. She has resisted most of our entreaties to form a common front against Japan on history issues. But she has also handed me useful propaganda by celebrating our anti-Japanese struggles as the precious foundation for the friendship of both nations and visiting the location of a supposed government-in-exile in Shanghai - in fact a small group of intellectuals, but no matter since it gives the appearance that China helped liberate Korea from Japan. We will continue to play this game for the long-term.
Choe Ryong-hae, secretary of the Korean Worker’s Party: Such humiliation!!! Forced to sit in the furthest corner in the rear while that American puppet Park Geun-hye joins Xi and his wife at center stage. The Chinese are indeed our greatest enemy and a vindication of Chairman Kim’s nuclear weapons program - no less important than the American threat. If Park thinks she can use the China card against us, we will prove her wrong with our powerful deterrent. The Chinese will back away if they are punched even once in the nose.
But this is bad for me. Kim Jong-un has a volatile and unpredictable temper. Will he blame this humiliation on me? I must channel his anger in another direction - at the Chinese perhaps, or even Park and the South. Pyongyang has become more terrifying than ever. I have outflanked my rivals to become part of the innermost circle. For now, the violent purges are in the leadership of the Korean Peoples’ Army, but what if the Party itself is next? Nothing is certain.
Vladimir Putin: Mmmmmm. Perhaps my advisers who warned of the Chinese peril are correct. Such wealth and arrogance. But for now, it is not China that must be humiliated - it is the West. Ukraine was always part of Mother Russia. NATO must be proven for the paper tiger it is, but incrementally and stealthily so that the Europeans continue cutting their defense budgets and the Americans hesitate and stumble as I keep off balance those former Warsaw Pact members whose role is to buffer Mother Russia, not undermine her with colored revolutions.
For that, China is a most useful dagger pointed at the backs of the Americans. It satisfies me that Xi also can claim only a small retinue of world leaders at this parade. Yet South Korea’s Park is here. How interesting. The Koreans send strong ambassadors to Moscow and stand with the Americans and the West almost always. And yet this could be interpreted as defiance of the West. Perhaps Park can be convinced to accept my proposal for a peace pipeline through North Korea to sell Russian LNG? We need customers. Seoul needs peace on the peninsula. I must have Lavrov follow up immediately.
A Chinese citizen watching on CCTV: So many tanks in Tiananmen. So beautifully painted and lined up. Not like the tanks in June 1989 that roared through the square in a scene of pandemonium - the commanders’ eyes wide-open in terror, ignoring the screams of hundreds of my fellow students. So many nations have become democracies since then. We hoped in 1989 it would be our turn.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 11, Page 28
*The author is senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and associate professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
by Michael Green