Interesting constructivist perspective from Forbes Asia: “Why China’s Pop-Culture Icons Matter” on China’s position international relations.
The author basically argues that a large part of the reason why China has traditionally remained a unilateralist player in the international arena is because it lacks a foreign policy ‘hero’ the people can rally around. Coinciding with China’s rise to the world stage, the author wonders whether the nation’s hero-worship has changed and if this indicates a change in China’s stance as a isolationist or multilateralist country.
Certainly, its national icons have been diversifying in recent years–many often borrowed from other neighboring nations like Korea, Japan and Taiwan. When I taught in mainland China, for the students it was all about “Jay” (周杰倫) and “A-Mei” (阿妹), two Taiwanese pop stars. In fact, Jay Chou was recently named one of Asia’s 25 most influential individuals at the end of last year. Other home-grown icons include Yao-Ming, Ang Lee, the creators of Baidu.com, the Chinese Olympic team etc. These guys are at the top of the food chain as worldwide entrepreneurs and thus are easy trophies for the Chinese populace to brandish as “winners”.
Quote: “What does that mean for the unilateral vs. multilateral discussion? If nation-states indeed act based on the inclinations of their populaces, then a citizenry like China’s–which at the moment most identifies with being the best within the confines of the rules of an internationalcompetition–would most approve of its own nation acting like a winner within the guidelines of the global architecture.” (Kevin Lee, Forbes.com)
So the question is: Where is China’s Mandela? China’s Thatcher? China’s Clinton? China’s Obama? As the author argues, when it comes to real international crises like the recent standoff between North and South Korea, China is notoriously slow to react or become involved because it has no diplomatic leader to rally around. Participation in international summits, such as the G20 or Copenhagen conference are more aptly seen as two cogs in the China machine, two more gold stars to boast about. But with more national icons on the rise that hold their own status globally, it is possible that we will soon meet China’s next star–this time in foreign policy. As it goes, China must always strive for best in show 🙂
Also, I think this picture taken from the Forbes blog is just kind of awesome: