What a Mason Expert Is Saying about … China

Posted: December 5, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Emma Epstein

Ming Wan
Ming Wan

Ming Wan, director of the Global Affairs Program and professor of government and politics at Mason, is an expert on East Asia and is regularly invited to share his expertise as a media commentator.

He received his PhD in government from Harvard University. He also has held numerous postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard, George Washington University and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

With issues surrounding China currently prevalent in the news media, Wan was asked to relate his outlook on the region.

What diplomatic potential do you see in China’s government as it pertains to the Asian continent?

China’s diplomatic influence has increased dramatically in the Asian continent due to its increased economic power, a softer touch when dealing with neighboring countries in recent years, and Washington’s current preoccupation with Iraq and the war on terrorism.

In the particular case of Burma, Beijing’s weight has been enhanced relatively due to the efforts of the United States and European countries to sanction the Burmese military government in recent years. As a result, Burma needs Beijing more, and the West has few cards to play with.

The Chinese government will and has been trying to facilitate the United Nations mission in Burma and bring about talks between the military junta and the opposition because the Chinese want to appear responsible as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

However, the Chinese government will stop way short of what the Western governments and human rights activists hope to see. China is not a democracy and does not share the Western values of promoting democracy and human rights in other countries. Also, Chinese diplomatic clout in Burma would vanish as soon it began to “intervene” in Burmese domestic politics. The Burmese military junta is turning to Beijing out of political necessity. In fact, the Burmese military government had tense relations with the Chinese government through the 1970s because of Beijing’s active support for the communist insurgency in Burma.

Why do you think the Dalai Lama’s Oct. 17 acceptance of the Congressional Gold Medal enraged the Chinese government to such a great extent?

The Chinese government has never liked His Holiness Dalai Lama’s international activities because they consider Tibet as China’s internal affair.

They were particularly harsh with criticism when the U.S. Congress awarded the Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama because this award is extremely high-profile; it was widely regarded as the second most important award for the Dalai Lama, next to his Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, the ceremony took place during the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th National Congress, an important occasion for the Chinese government.

How do you think human rights issues could play into China’s hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

Human rights were an important reason that China narrowly lost to Australia in the bid for the 2000 Olympics. The fact that they did win their second attempt meant that China’s internal human rights record would probably not become an issue unless something as dramatic as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown took place. But over the past year or so, China has been under pressure to help improve human rights situations in other countries.

It is widely believed that China’s concern about a potential boycott of the Beijing Olympics has been an important reason for its shifting position on the Darfur crisis. Encouraged by that example, some activists feel that they can repeat that in places like Burma. However, one should note that Beijing’s shifting position also had much to do with its desire to respect African concerns over this issue even though one may debate how well the Chinese government has actually addressed African concerns over this or other issues. Also, the Chinese government appears to be “fatigued” by threats to boycott the Beijing Olympics on one issue after another. It is piling on, from their perspective.

You are often asked to comment publicly on current events involving China on programs such as the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” To what extent do you bring the examination of current events into the classroom?

Media programs such as the “NewsHour” typically book an appearance one or two days in advance, and they conduct preliminary interviews. Experts need to prepare, which of course improves their understanding of important current issues. That preparation makes me more informed about the issues I am teaching.

Classroom discussion at Mason is tremendously helpful for media interviews. Given the university’s location, students are generally well informed and truly interested in politics and international relations. Their questions and comments are typically at the same level as those asked by a journalist. If you can explain something clearly and succinctly to students, you can likely explain it to educated audiences across the nation.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format in CHSSConnection.

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