Wednesday, April 7, 2010
It is often claimed by the Chinese government - as well as some foreign observers who ought to know better - that China never responds to external pressure and that such pressure is always counterproductive. This has always seemed like obvious nonsense to me: if Chinese leaders really did have this infantile mentality, foreign governments could manipulate them to do anything. The US would send officials to press China to persecute the Dalai Lama and point more missiles at Taiwan. In reality, it's more likely that Chinese leaders, like everyone else, respond to a range of incentives of both domestic and foreign origin. Sure, they have to worry about how RMB revaluation (for example) will play domestically and can't appear to be bending to foreign pressure, but of how many national leaders is that not true?
For what it's worth, Gao Zhisheng's reappearance is a data point in this debate. It's impossible (at least for me; perhaps not for others) to imagine that he would be chatting with an AP reporter, in at least passable health, were it not for foreign pressure. Of course, better treatment for one person in response to foreign pressure is not the same as a major change in policy in response to foreign pressure. And the fact that foreign pressure sometimes works does not mean it always works. Still, it's a data point to keep in mind whenever you hear the claim that "China will never act under foreign pressure."