Mike Pence's speech arouses laughter on China's social media

China Plus Published: 2018-10-10 22:08:53
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United States Vice President Mike Pence. [File photo: VCG]

United States Vice President Mike Pence. [File photo: VCG]

Note: The following is an edited translation of a commentary from the Chinese-language "Commentaries on International Affairs."

During the National Day holiday in China last week, United States Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech in which he boasted about the strength of the United States, and criticized China's development ambitions. The speech was translated into Chinese and published by the U.S. Embassy in China on their official WeChat account, enabling it to be readily ridiculed by Chinese netizens.

In his speech, Pence unleashed a verbal attack on the greater part of China's history over the past one hundred years. Some young netizens who paid attention to the speech decided to brush up on their history, and found that Pence's view of events was often laughable.

"It is remarkable to think that only five years after our nations had fought together, we fought each other in the mountains and valleys of the Korean Peninsula. My own father saw combat on that frontier of freedom," he said. Some Chinese netizens were quick to point out that the United States military smashed and burned its way up towards China's doorstep. In order to defend their country's sovereignty and territory, the Chinese People's Volunteers "crossed the Yalu River valiantly and spiritedly", as says a classic army marching song.

The Vice President also said, "We rebuilt China over the last 25 years." Twenty-five years ago China was at a crossroad, deciding on its path to development. It was then that China's leader Deng Xiaoping said, "Let whoever opposes reform go to sleep." He said this during his history-making Southern Tour, which gave a massive boost to the country's policy of Reform and Opening up. It was at this moment that China stepped up the pace of its move towards becoming a market economy. At the same time, the United States was busy celebrating the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and warning that China would be the next big global threat. In 1992, China's GDP was 2.72 trillion yuan; by the end of 2017 it was 82.71 trillion yuan. This was, as some Chinese netizens said, the result of hard work by the Chinese people, and not some gift from the United States.

Pence also said, "At the University of Maryland, a Chinese student recently spoke at her graduation of what she called the ‘fresh air of free speech’ in America. The Communist Party's official newspaper swiftly chastised her. She became the victim of a firestorm of criticism on China's tightly-controlled social media, and her family back home was harassed." This observation led to more ridicule from Chinese netizens, as Pence grossly mischaracterized why she came in for such harsh criticism in China. Many Chinese netizens attacked her words because her decision to launch a broad-brush attack on China was little more than an insincere attempt to please her American hosts and her audience. As a Chinese netizen said, "Mr. Pence doesn't know today's China and the Chinese people. No wonder his remarks were not to the point and opened him up to ridicule."

But the biggest laugh that netizens got from Vice President Pence's speech, which also sparked the ridicule of many American netizens, was his accusation that "China wants a different American President." Many Americans on Twitter started replying "So do we!" And as some Chinese netizens noted, isn't interfering in the domestic politics of another country a longstanding habit of the United States? And some were quick to point to the tight race the Republicans are facing in next month's mid-term elections, which is why Pence fell back on the old trick of using China as a scapegoat for America's domestic problems.

Just last month, President Donald Trump bragged about his achievements and promoted his policy of "America First" at the United Nations. It triggered a burst of laughter from the participants at the General Assembly. We've become the laughing stock of the world, said many American media commentators.

Another netizen pointed out that Pence has always been seen to play a more neutral and moderate role in the Trump administration. This is why the many smears in his speech left many people in China feeling disappointed. In early September, The New York Times published an article by an anonymous senior official of the White House called "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration", which complained about President Trump's "amorality" and "reckless decisions". The American media was rife with speculation about Pence's role in its publication, which is why some observers in China see Pence's fiery speech as some sort of misguided show of loyalty to President Trump. Chinese people have always believed that it is important to set your own house in order before you criticize someone else, but this is not, it seems, a sentiment shared by the American Vice President.

When President Trump spoke, the whole world laughed; when Pence spoke, Chinese netizens laughed, said a Chinese netizen. But now the jokes are over, and it's time for China to get back to the serious work of addressing the problems the country still has to solve along its path towards development. Because, regardless of Pence's barrage of criticism, China will continue to move forward, to build partnerships with countries around the world, and to play its part as a responsible member of the community of nations – and not be the butt of a joke for the world.

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.