Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tai Zaogao

Tai Zaogao, a Chinese phrase essentially meaning "too bad" usually in reference to something that was planned to happen, or something that could have happened but didn't. At least that's my rudimentary and non-dictionary use of it.

When I'm feeling blase about international missed-steps and Bush administration gaffes, it's often a word that comes to mind. As it did this evening when I was reading about Sec. Defense Donald Rumsfeld's trip to China (here is the article I read, the Post has a background piece).

At the first stop on his first China trip since becoming Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld chided the Chinese a bit for a lack of political freedom (no big shocker from a U.S. envoy of his rank) and also criticized the Chinese for inadequate transparency with their military and its budget (a long-standing beef between China and the West).

But what caught me the most was the mention of the Q&A and the opportunity he had to address differences between democracy in the U.S. and the system in China, in a straightforward, honest way, and score enormous points with average Chinese, and those Chinese who seek to broaden the scope of daily freedoms.

"During a question and answer session with students and faculty after his speech, a professor said China hears "different voices" from the United States about future relations with China

"I hadn't noticed that," Rumsfeld said in response."

Tai Zaogao!

Was this a direction he was coached to take the answers, or are administration officials so reflexively/instinctively/mechanistically against multiple points of view that the mere suggestion that a country with freedom of the press, 300 million people, and about 1,000 government officials who feel qualified to comment on international affairs with "authority," strikes the Secretary of Defense as objectionable?

If he wanted to "gain face" for one of the most hated American Administrations in China since Eisenhower, all he would have had to do is to respond to the question with a different tact. Try something in this direction, "You've been listening! Try governing in a country where everyone has a say, and often-as-not we disagree." Or how about--in good Chinese syntax, "In Our America we have a system that is a little different than in Your China. Many voices are heard in America, because we feel that is how we reach the best decision. When you're hearing different voices from America, you're getting an idea of how our system is different than some other systems in the world."

OK, maybe those push it a bit too far, but simply admitting there are different voices in the American political and civic discourse, and using it as an opening to talk to how it contributes to the strength of our democratic process, would have been a great opening. I guess admitting the existence of dissent in his country is too dangerous for a Cabinet member of a president elected by the overwhelming majority of 1% of the electorate.

Zai shuo yi bian; Tai Zaogao.

1 comment:

the old man said...

Was there a hint of sarcasm in chiding the president's overwhelming 1% mandate and huge amount of gained political capital? Why would you expect our Secretary of Defense to respond differently? He is a member of an administration that has perfected to an art form the hand picking and stacking of the inner circle with yes people, insulating the President from any outside influences, ie. real news, and screening the citizens it allows to be present at "Town Hall meetings" and public addresses. In this artificial world they have created 51% = all. Maybe this should be one of the math questions on the "No Child Left Behind" test.