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China rising to occasion

Just in case you are wondering, let me confirm that I’d make a lousy president. There is no way that I could have survived the visit of China’s President Hu Jintao this week without provoking some kind of international incident which would no doubt be known for years afterward as the Abbott and Costello Affair.

Just in case you are wondering, let me confirm that I’d make a lousy president. There is no way that I could have survived the visit of China’s President Hu Jintao this week without provoking some kind of international incident which would no doubt be known for years afterward as the Abbott and Costello Affair.

“Who is sitting here?”

“Yes, he is.”

“What?”

“No, Hu.”

“Who?”

“That’s what I said.”

Kidding aside, you’ve got to hand it to the Chinese these days. They are flexing their international muscles and the message is unmistakable: Who are we? We are the country that wants to be the world’s dominant power in economics, trade, research, education and technology. America? Uh, yeah ... you and Great Britain can go tend your tomatoes at the Superpower Retirement Home.

Part of the way China is pulling off this trick was on display during this week’s visit. Chinese officials proudly declared themselves ready to negotiate as equal partners; but when pushed on environmental concerns or human rights or any number of other thorns, they are quick to slap on a different mask. That’s when they portray themselves as a “developing” country, which might suffer great harm if held to the standards of others.

There may be some truth to that. China has made enormous strides, but it still faces the huge challenges that come from having more than a billion citizens. (For example, parking room for the annual All China picnic.)

But this is also something of a stalking horse. Sure, they’ve got problems, but they also have a hugely aggressive space program, they are cranking engineers out like sausages and they are engaging the world’s markets with shrewdness and tenacity. In other words, they are moving every day more firmly into position to say they are no longer struggling, but dominating.

They are not there yet. But for a country that measures its history by millennia, a few more years of waiting while they amass their power is nothing.

Who are they? China. That’s Hu.

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull.”

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