China more and
more is acting like a tantrum-throwing toddler in a supermarket isle. You feel
slightly embarrassed for the parents until you realize that it’s the parents’
fault and they are getting exactly what they deserve.

In the case of
China’s little tantrums the parents are the United States and Europe, along
with some help from wimpy Uncle Japan. They’ve been placating China for so long
that China has decided it is strong enough to get its way now; that the nations
that once ruled the world are ready to be ruled.

The two latest
episodes of tantrum throwing by Beijing are telling.

The first followed
a Chinese fishing boat’s collision with a Japanese naval vessel in the waters
around the Senkaku Islands in September. Although the deserted islands have
been held by the Japanese since 1895, except for the period from the end of
World War II until 1972 when the US administered them, the Chinese claim what
they call the Diaoyu Islands as their own. Until recently China had taken a
softly, softly approach in discussions over ownership. But the September
incident, which resulted in the Japanese Navy arresting the captain of the
Chinese fishing trawler, led to strong anti-Japanese sentiments being expressed
on the Chinese internet and subsequently in protests on the streets. (Of
course, Japanese nationalists responded in kind.)

Things quickly
escalated. Beijing demanded that Tokyo release the captain despite evidence
that he was drunk at the time of the incident and that his fishing boat had
deliberately rammed the Japanese patrol boat in what are still recognized by
the international community as Japanese waters. When Tokyo refused to acquiesce,
China arrested three Japanese company executives working in China on the vague
charge of “business crimes”.

When Japan still
held firm, China froze exports of rare earth metals to Japan. Rare earth metals
are used in a wide range of modern technological devices such as computers and
mobile phones. With China controlling 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare
earths, Japan had no alternative supplier waiting in the wings.

Guess what Japan
opted to do? It capitulated.

Gunboat diplomacy
has been replaced by economic clout — the clout of a very big, howling baby in
the supermarket aisle. Forget international law. Forget law of the sea. Forget
that the captain of the fishing boat was drunk and acting recklessly.

Might means right
in Beijing’s lexicon.

The second recent scandal
follows the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu
Xiaobo “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in
China”. China reacted by calling in the Norwegian Ambassador to Beijing in the
middle of the night to chastise him and his government. The prize is awarded by
an independent committee and has nothing to do with the government of Norway;
it’s just that it’s awarded in Oslo. But that’s a minor issue to China. It may
not be able to bully independent committees in democratic Western nations but
Western democratic governments are fair game.

In the latest news
China has been warning foreign governments against sending representatives to
the award ceremony. The usual suspects have already capitulated – Russia, Iraq,
Cuba and Kazakhstan – while Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has joined China in criticizing
the prize-giving committee for its decision. These nations represent a nice
collection of the corrupt and crazy of geo-politics.

Perhaps there has
been some back-room pressure applied by the international community or Beijing
on the Nobel Prize awarding community. At least it is acting less nobly than
we’d expect of such an organization. It has decided to defer the awarding of
Liu’s prize because Liu, his wife and other relatives will not be able to
attend the ceremony.

It sounds like the
mother of Catch-22 bureaucratic solutions: we won’t be giving the award to this
year’s winner who is in prison for standing up for freedom. Is it 1984 all over

Perhaps the noble bestowers
of the Nobel Peace Prize should reconsider and give the award to Liu in
absentia and make a meal of Bejing’s small-mindedness. Even the Soviet Union
and Eastern Bloc countries used to let relatives of their dissidents attend the
ceremonies and collect the awards despite the awardees themselves being locked
up at home (eg, Andrei Sakharov in 1975 and Lech Walesa in 1983). The only
other regime to totally stop a winner from collecting the prize was Nazi
Germany. It refused to release the pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from a
concentration camp to receive the 1935 Peace Prize.

But Beijing is
unlikely to see the parallel to Nazi Germany. More likely it will take the
cancellation of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as victory and a sign that the
West is at last bowing to Beijing’s wishes.

Kowtowing to China
is not the way to win respect from Beijing. China sees itself in ascendancy.
Showing the Chinese Communist Party and its military that we are pushovers now
is going to make it a lot harder to stand firm when it really matters.

The West would do
well to recall that Britain and France’s policy of appeasement did little to
avert war with Nazi Germany. Appeasement didn’t work then; it’s unlikely to
work now.

The West needs to
find some backbone while it can still stand straight.

Constance Kong is the pen name of a Shanghai-based business

Constance Kong is the pen name of a Shanghai-based business consultant.