The 21st century is said to be a great leveller, a time yesterday’s great powers repudiate the great games of yore. Yet, there was a disturbing imagery from another age behind the choreography of President Barack Obama’s visit to China last week. For many, the reference in the joint statement to supporting “the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan” was a “casual remark”, about as significant as proforma commitments to foster cultural exchanges.

However, since joint statements are not usually a casual collation of stray thoughts – unless the joint India-Pakistan statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh becomes a template – and certainly not regarded as such by China, it may safely be assumed the reference was calculated.

India may not quite be yesterday’s Tanganyika but the assumptions behind including it in a US-China joint statement weren’t dissimilar to those imperial leaders who rolled out maps and coloured their spheres of influence in red. For the US it was one step backward: it repudiated the Bush doctrine of nurturing India to offset China’s dominance in Asia. For China it was a giant step forward: it secured US endorsement for taking an active interest in South Asia, including India. Together, Obama and President Hu Jintao agreed that India, for all its potential as a rising economic power, doesn’t yet qualify for a place on a high table; it remains bound in a hyphenated relationship with an imploding Pakistan.

and Akbar

On the first anniversary of 26/11, it is not Pakistan alone that is laughing at our weakness. Washington too has measured the tensile strength of a nation that finds unique ways to postpone its threats to the next calamity. Last year, we gloried in the belief that the US had promoted us to the ascending plateau of a regional power, en route to the status of world player. This week, President Barack Obama used a communiqué in Beijing, of all capitals, to tell us where we stand in his estimation, as one of the nations of South Asia whose border problems the worldwide partnership of equals, US and China, would help sort out.

The lean and lissome Obama has learnt to slap with a long hand.

Obama did not have a word to say, incidentally, about Dr A Q Khan’s latest revelations on Chinese help in fuel and technology for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, a clear instance of illegal proliferation. Do not be surprised, however, if India gets a lecture or two on nuclear proliferation.

have written about how Obama and Jintao managed to screw India. Last November, the whole of India was gushing over Obama’s victory, fully aware of the record of previous presidents from the Democratic Party. Its time the country came to its senses.

Such diplomatic jousting is par for the course. What’s more revealing is Obamaspeak on subjects that really matter. Here’s the wonderful part

“I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” Obama said. “I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”

about which a Chinese writer has said, “Learn English from Obama: Instead of saying ‘I want to eat,’ say ‘I am a big supporter of non-hunger.'”

Ed Cline goes a lot deeper into the mentality that gives rise to such phrasing-

Obama is a “big supporter of non-censorship”? What is “non-censorship”? Is it an awkward grasp of the concept of freedom of speech, or an inverted synonym? No. It cannot even have an antonym. If, to paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary definition of censor, censorship is the “inspection of all books, journals, dramatic pieces, etc., before publication, to secure that they shall contain nothing immoral, heretical, or offensive to the government,” then non-censorship is an anti-concept. It is the “not censoring” of speech in any venue or form. That is, it is the staying of the government’s hand to censor it. It is the implicit acknowledgement that a government has the power and the will to censor, but chooses not to, for the moment. It is an Orwellian anti-concept possible only to a power-seeker at home with censoring and non-censoring.

Obama did not say that he is a “big supporter of freedom of speech” for two reasons: It would have been offensive to the Chinese totalitarian government — and because he does not believe in it.


He avoided the term “freedom of speech” again, and likened it to “tradition,” or custom. Message to China’s communist/fascist rulers: You have a long tradition of censorship and suppression of speech. On the other hand, we in the United States have a long “tradition” of freedom of speech. So, it’s just a difference of tradition. I won’t make a distinction between our traditions and yours, nor judge your regime.


The satire is that in Shanghai, Obama was subjected to the same censorship that he wishes to impose on America. It was the professional totalitarians showing the ropes to an amateur.

Beating around the bush, indulging in linguistic gymnastics never works, unless that, not working, is the goal of one’s enterprise. Such a speech is an insult to everyone, especially dissidents in China, who’s had to go through hell for believing in the idea.

Yang Zili, a Chinese dissident recently freed after eight years in prison for forming a political study group, had been expecting something stronger from Obama.

“Although Obama mentioned some words such as ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ in the speech in Shanghai, we expect he can do more to promote the improvement of China’s human rights condition,” he said.

It would have been much better if he had simply said that he doesn’t give a damn about free speech. That would have been more truthful, and people could then start looking up to real heroes. Someone like Voltaire, and his “Crush the infamy!”

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