- - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

King’s speech in China

The opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Mall in Washington brings poignancy to the extraordinary legacy of King in China, a country that shows supreme irony by immortalizing the American civil rights leader considering its own abysmal civil rights reality.

The King statute was sculptured by a Chinese artist, yet artists in China, especially prominent ones such as Ai Weiwei, are among those who are most tormented by the Chinese government. King’s staunch advocacy for nonviolence won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, yet China’s leading nonviolence activist, Liu Xiaobo, King’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2010, is serving a long prison sentence for preaching exactly what King urged.

China’s propaganda machine routinely attacks the United States for its race relations in a most exaggerated fashion. Yet the Chinese nation as a whole remains far outside the moral orbit of modern, civilized race discourse, where the election of a black man as president often is regarded as a sign of America’s decline, and where an avalanche of vile, racist comments are routinely allowed on China’s efficiently monitored Internet to attack black Americans such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin L. Powell for their perceived “misbehavior” in U.S.-Chinese relations.

Some veteran China analysts say the recent, highly publicized basketball brawl in China likely would not have happened had the Georgetown University players not been black. While leaving the court, the Georgetown players suffered a barrage of hurled water bottles and reported utterances of “heigui,” the Chinese N-word.

Yet King’s legacy has been remarkably inspirational for Chinese democracy activists. “We Shall Overcome” was one of several anthems for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. King’s fighting words “Let freedom ring” were cited repeatedly by the protesters in Tiananmen Square and in support rallies of Chinese students around the world.

In 2006, China allowed a California anti-war themed play called “Passages of Martin Luther King” to premiere in Beijing. Many Chinese didn’t care for the play’s anti-war message but did catch on to King’s fighting spirit that encouraged civil disobedience. The play didn’t succeed in China because protest against oppression was the last thing the rulers in China’s Politburo wanted to see.

Grateful debt

China should be grateful that it can continue to buy American debt. This is the essential message Vice President Joseph R. Biden brought to China during an Aug. 21 speech in Chengdu. Addressing China’s overdramatized concern about the American economy’s inability to recover, Mr. Biden stated that the United States remained “the safest haven in the whole world to invest, [because] we are still the single best bet in the world in terms of where to invest.”

The Chinese government apparently has known this all along and can’t stop willingly buying American debt, even after the shocking downgrade by Standard and Poor’s. An Aug. 15 report by the Treasury Department indicates that for three consecutive months since April, China purchased a large number of Treasury bonds totaling $5.7 billion for June alone and reaching a total Chinese debt holding worth $1.1655 trillion.

However, Mr. Biden also pointed out to the Chinese that China did not “own” the U.S. economy as “Americans own 87 percent of all our financial assets and 69 percent of all our Treasury bonds, while China owns 1 percent of our financial assets and 8 percent of our Treasury bills respectively.”

After delivering this perspective, an admiring Chinese student asked Mr. Biden for advice on how to become an accomplished public speaker like him. This led to the vice president’s prolonged reflections on the subject, none of which dealt with brevity.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached a mmilesyu@gmail.com.