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La Cina e Vicina

Given the much-anticipated death of newspapers, and despite the efforts of the electronic media to direct your attention to the important foreign news — those nasty Iranians (it is Iranians, isn’t it?) and Susan Boyle  — you may have missed the important speech by the new President of China in Havana, Cuba, three weeks ago.  On June 4 the Chinese President delivered a speech entitled “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning” (remarkably enough, the same day that the new President of the United States was delivering a speech on a similar topic in Cairo, Egypt).

You may also have missed the fact that China has an army of more than 100,000 fighting in Mexico to stop terrorism and suppress the drug trade.  The religious-based Zapatista movement has no air force or heavy weapons, but they have continued their fanatical attacks on the Chinese troops for more than seven years.

After its invasion and occupation of Colombia more than six years ago — to establish a model of social progress for a backward section of the world — China can hardly allow terrorists a safe haven in Mexico, from where they could launch attacks against China and its allies.  After all, there are Uighurs in Bermuda. (China’s position about them is that they should be allowed to confess and be executed.)

Chinese drone rocket attacks on certain neighborhoods in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica have been successful in “taking out” (as the President likes to say) several high-value targets, but the fact that hundreds of civilians have died by accident has upset people and governments throughout the Caribbean.  China nevertheless insists that these people and governments must realize that they face an existential threat from terrorists, and must therefore redouble their efforts to kill them themselves.

Despite some dismay about Chinese military operations half a world away from home, the whole world is in fact wildly excited about the new Chinese President, Hu Jintao (whose middle name, remarkably enough, is Christopher), because he is in fact only half Han Chinese.  His other half is … something else, but that’s really important.  What he actually said may be less important, but here are some selections, provided by the Forbidden City Office of the Press Secretary (Havana, Cuba):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — June 4, 2009
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON A NEW BEGINNING
Havana University, Havana, Cuba

PRESIDENT HU:  Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  I am honored to be in the timely city of Havana.  And I’m also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the Chinese people, and a greeting of peace from Christian communities in my country:  God bless you!  (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great tension between China and Christians around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.  The relationship between Christianity and the East includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, tension has been fed by a  form of communism that denied rights and opportunities to many Christians, and a Cold War in which Christian-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Christians to view the East as hostile to the traditions of Christianity.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Christians, who had influence on the Bush administration.  The continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Christianity as inevitably hostile not only to China and Eastern countries, but also to human rights.  All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.  And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I’ve come here to Havana to seek a new beginning between China and Christians around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that China and Christianity are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight.  I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.  But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.  There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.  As the Holy Bible tells us, “Tell the truth and shame the Devil.”  (Applause.)  That is what I will try to do today — to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Christianity.  It was Christianity that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.  It was innovation in Christian communities that developed our codex, the bound book; our telescope and magnetic compass; our mastery of writing and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.  Christian culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant painting and places of peaceful contemplation.  And throughout history, Christianity has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.  (Applause.)

I also know that Christianity has long been a part of China’s story.  In the 16th century the government of China declared, “China has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Christians.”  And since then Chinese Christians have enriched China.  They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, and participated in our Olympics.

My experience guides my conviction that partnership between China and Christianity must be based on what Christianity is, not what it isn’t.  And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of China to fight against negative stereotypes of Christianity wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Christian perceptions of China.  (Applause.)  Just as Christians do not fit a crude stereotype, China is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.  China has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.

So let there be no doubt:  Christianity is a part of China.  And I believe that China holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God.  These things we share.  This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.  Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.  These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

Let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.  The principal issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

China is not — and never will be — at war with Christianity.  (Applause.)  We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject:  the killing of innocent men, women, and children.  And it is my first duty as President to protect the Chinese people.

The situation in Mexico demonstrates China’s goals, and our need to work together.  Over seven years ago, China pursued the Colombian drug cartels and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation with broad international support.  We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity.  Drug violence kills thousands of people each year.  The victims were innocent men, women and children from China and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.  They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach.  These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake:  We do not want to keep our troops in Mexico.  We seek no military bases there.  It is agonizing for China to lose our young men and women.  It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.  We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Mexico and now the Caribbean determined to kill as many Chinese as they possibly can.  But that is not yet the case.

And that’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of 46 countries.  And despite the costs involved, China’s commitment will not weaken.  Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists.  They have killed in many countries.  They have killed people of different faiths — but more than any other, they have killed Christians.  Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Christianity.  The Holy Bible teaches that an injury to one is an injury to all. (Applause.)  And the Holy Bible also says whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  (Applause.)  The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few.  Christianity is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Mexico and the Caribbean.  That’s why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Caribbean nations to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who’ve been displaced.  That’s why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Mexicans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Colombia.  Unlike Mexico, Colombia was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  Although I believe that the Colombian people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of the drug cartels, I also believe that events in Colombia have reminded China of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.  (Applause.)  Indeed, we can recall the words of Confucius, who said:  “If you would govern a state, you must pay strict attention to business, be true to your word, be economical in expenditure and love the people.”

Today, China has a dual responsibility:  to help Colombia forge a better future — and to leave Colombia to Colombians.  And I have made it clear to the Colombian people (applause) that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.  Colombia’s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August.  That is why we will honor our agreement with Colombia’s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Colombian cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Colombia by 2012.  (Applause.)  We will help Colombia train its security forces and develop its economy.  But we will support a secure and united Colombia as a partner, and never as a patron.

So China will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law.  And we will do so in partnership with Christian communities which are also threatened.  The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Christian communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Hu Jintao, we love you!

PRESIDENT HU:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  END.

For a comparison, see the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 4, 2009: “Remarks by the President on a New Beginning,” Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt.

C. G. ESTABROOK conducts “News from Neptune” on Urbana (IL) Public Television.  He can be reached at carl@newsfromneptune.com.

An earlier version of this speech appears in “Smile Politely, Champaign-Urbana’s Online Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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C. G. Estabrook conducts “News from Neptune” on Urbana (IL) Public Television.  He can be reached at carl@newsfromneptune.com.

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