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Commentary: China's 21st Century Management

Beijing, China (UPI) Jan 14, 2005
Beijing is increasingly becoming a modern manifestation of its old role as the Middle Kingdom capital. Rather than kowtow to a throne - sometimes empty if an indolent emperor reigned - foreigners today are still expected to pay a modicum of decorum, some say obeisance, to rules of propriety in the host-guest dynamic.

One characteristic Chinese have honed to a high art form is the role of playing host to visitors from afar. Host motivations range from genuine warmth, affection and honesty to cold calculation worthy of the 36 Stratagems or Sino-Machiavellian ideals of houhei xue, Mandarin shorthand for the study of thick face and black heart.

Experiences of guests in China range from ethereal, enriching and fantastic to cloying, controlled and claustrophobic. All are governed by one's rationale in going there. Guest motivations also span the spectrum: There's a pageant of tourist caravansaries, individual escapists, the studious and curious, those craving commerce, panda huggers and dragon slayers.

The panda and dragon refer to where China stands on one's political spectrum. Huggers believe the country can do no wrong, while slayers believe it can do no right. Good and bad experiences with the host-guest relationship, whether one is here on a finite visa or renewable residency permit, color this perception. Everyone connected with the country needs a bit of both to deal with the place.

Know this: As a guest it is instructive to consider yourself standing in the palm of the sleeping giant, as Napoleon may have once described China. The fingers of that hand can close to make a fist with you inside, or you can be cast off the precarious perch by a single breath of the host blown in your direction.

What happened in Beijing on Wednesday when four South Korean parliamentarians from the opposition party barricaded themselves inside the Hibiscus Room at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel was aptly described as low theatre bordering on circus by a journalist covering the event.

Some of the players in this farce, namely the South Korean legislators, brought to the staid stately drab Chinese capital (stewing with its own discontent) drama queen antics worthy of a news coverage award for the most emotional and irrational display in the Asian politics category.

Representatives from the Grand National Party Kim Moon-soo, Choi Byung-gook, Bae Il-do and Park Seung-hwan had a valid message, but chose dubious manipulative means to get it across.

There is evidence that space in the hotel was rented under false pretenses in the name of South Korean diplomatic representatives in China.

An Internet-based message written in capital letters that made it into the hands of foreign journalists prior to the event said, FOR MORE INFO, PLEASE DON'T CALL SK CONSULATE OR SHERATON HOTEL BUT CALL ME OR MS. JI-YOUNG SOH AT REP. KIM MOON-SOO'S OFFICE IN SEOUL. It came from an individual named Pastor Douglas Shin.

The goal was to hold a press conference prefaced by an opening statement. United Press International obtained a copy of the statement which made legitimate and important points, assuredly ones not at the top of the Chinese government's agenda.

The issue of China returning North Korean defectors in deference to its satellite buffer state's face is sad. Those returned, it is feared, are assured of a death sentence (quick or slow) once they arrive home.

China's leadership loathes seeing its land used as an Underground Railroad, illustrating some freedoms for some peoples aren't possible until leaving the country. It claims a humanitarian spirit and to be following domestic and international law concerning illegal economic immigrants as justification for sending people back.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (a.k.a. the North) is a dynastic communist Stalinist satrapy hermetically sealed like an insect trapped in Cold War amber clinging to the bluster of nuclear weapons development and a negotiation style of paranoid histrionics tantamount to a pathetic cry for help.

China has shed the Maoist personality cult and cradle-to-grave socialism, transforming itself into an economic leviathan. Yet to some observers it remains tied down pygmy politics: largely governed by loosening Leninist totalitarian roots, and it can be argued, still in touch with its feudal Legalist philosophy heritage formed in 403-221 B.C.

There's plenty of codified rule of law, but it enforcement remains arbitrary.

The statement by the four members of Grand National Party was indeed grandstanding designed to get an imprisoned national, Choi Young-hoon, set free. However, couching the appeal by citing a treaty between the Republic of Korea (a.k.a. the South) with China concerning Mutual Judicial Assistance in Criminal Matters has a familiar ring.

It resonates with the sound of alarm bells on the rule of law stretching beyond the immediate implications of what will be ultimately portrayed as a minor diplomatic incident.

This brings us to the next cast of characters in the melodrama: departments of the Chinese government. The lunar calendar Year of the Monkey ended on Feb. 8 with China's overreaction to the event and weak initial response in doing damage control rendering it vulnerable to charges of apish behavior.

Earlier this month, Premier Wen Jiabao chaired a meeting of senior officials within the State Council, which is the country's Cabinet, and Communist Party to revise laws governing the avenues of public dissent open to citizens.

The rules regarding call manner of foreigners exercising this prerogative in the PRC is fuzzier than a soft Inner Mongolian cashmere sweater charged with winter static electricity.

The unfolding incident does not bode well for Chinese intelligence, police and diplomatic agencies. To have the event progress as far as it did in front of journalists, witnesses that will not kowtow, was a complete public relations fiasco.

Manhandling done by security apparatus members who refused to identify themselves was described as the behavior of goons and gorillas by several of the approximately 40 reporters at the scene.

A nerve was touched in the host-guest relationship that caused China to give itself a black eye with an involuntary knee-jerk. Better intelligence would have prevented the event from happening in the first place. There is an urgent need for more finesse, discipline and honesty than Chinese authorities have shown themselves to possess in dealing with the mess that has been made.

Spokesman Kong Quan from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Jan. 13 faced a fusillade of correspondent questions regarding the incident. He stated for the first version of the record that only hotel security authorities were known to be involved in the fracas.

Kong did not adequately address the points of law - both international and domestic - pertinent to explaining his country's actions, nor could the spokesman clarify the rules for the holding of press conferences or the right to speak publicly enjoyed by foreigners while they are within Chinese borders.

This country is a fabulous host which deserves respect and appreciation for its rules, but in order to be good guests, foreigners should clearly know what is permitted, appropriate and the most effective way to publicly voice disagreements.

Despite millennia of outside contact, barbarian management by the Middle Kingdom still poses mysteries. China has much to teach, and a lot to learn.

All rights reserved. � 2004 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

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