J. R. Dunn explains the linkage between China’s snub of Obama at the Copenhagen conference, and Barry’s earlier bow to the Japanese emperor. The sobering lesson: diplomatic protocol matters.
This only goes to underline the reason why diplomatic protocol exists in the first place — to exclude through ritual actions all possibilities that error, misunderstanding, or personal pique might interfere with matters of state. Obama has yet to learn this. His insistence on winging it, on reinventing established practice on his own terms, is potentially far more than simply embarrassing. It could be actively dangerous. His refusal to go by the rules may well have cost him the opportunity to pose as Savior of Gaia in Copenhagen. It may cost him — and the country — far more at some future time.
UPDATE: From Victor Davis Hanson, a prediction for 2010:
I think the overseas bowing, apologizing, and kowtowing will stop in 2010—it brought no tangible results. Indeed, Obama is one bow away from global caricature and humiliation.
Twenty years ago, the image of a single protester defiantly blocking a column of tanks near Bejing’s Tiananmen Square became the icon of the failed movement to secure individual freedom in China. It has been called one of the most significant photos of the twentieth century.
Tank Man is to the left, off in the distance, framed by two trees. The tanks are emerging from the right.
Photographer Terril Jones recently released a photo that he took of that same event, but from a different angle. You have to look carefully to see the drama that was unfolding between the man and the tanks, but the surrounding details capture the sense of confusion and fear that make the man’s courage all the more remarkable.
We do not know what happened to Tank Man. According to the article on him on Wikipedia, the most likely scenario is that he was executed by the Chinese government. Whatever his fate, his solitary act of defiance that day will forever stand as a symbol of the human desire for freedom.
Robert Haddick sees some startling parallels between the rapid expansion of modern China’s economic and military power, and the unification of the German states under Otto von Bismarck in the late 1800s. Germany’s European neighbors failed to adapt to Germany’s growth, and the result was World War I.
Before World War I, Europe’s great powers clashed over the allegiance of small neighboring states, engaged in a naval arms race, and squabbled over access to overseas raw materials. As a consequence of China’s growth, we are witnessing modern versions of these same conflicts. The question for today’s statesmen is whether they will do a better job adjusting to China’s rise.
Haddick lists several possible flash points that could trigger a confrontation. But the single biggest factor influencing the outcome of this growing unease is the unknown quality of China’s own intentions.
The fateful day may arrive when the United States and China’s neighbors find themselves compelled to explicitly align against China, just as France, Russia, and eventually Great Britain did when they chose to align against Germany. The U.S. government has rejected a confrontational approach to China, with apparent benefit to all. But how long can this policy last? And what will cause U.S. statesmen to change their minds?