President Obama often has been incredibly naïve about foreign policy. In part it is because he doesn’t understand what our adversaries are saying. They say, “#$%&*!” and POTUs placidly replies that the door is “still open” for talks. An incident during the Chinese president’s visit symbolized Obama’s inability to hear what is being said (or in this case played).
It may have been the singularly most embarrassing moment in U.S. foreign relations since Secretary Clinton’s famous “reset” button in Russia. It happened at the end of the visit, at the state dinner, when pianist Ling Ling played a notoriously anti-American song. The American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt finds the meaning of the entire Chinese visit in this event:
How to evaluate the results of last week’s China-U.S. summit in Washington? Improbably, the key for the entire event may lie in what is usually the least memorable portion of these carefully choreographed occasions: the cultural program at the concluding state banquet.
During the dinner’s musical interlude and following a duet with American jazz musician Herbie Hancock, Chinese pianist Lang Lang treated the assembled dignitaries to a solo of what he described as “a Chinese song: ‘My Motherland.'” (You can watch this on YouTube.)
The Chinese delegation was clearly delighted: Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, stone-faced for many of his other photo ops in Washington, beamed with pleasure upon hearing the melody and embraced Lang Lang at the song’s conclusion (see it on YouTube too). President Obama, for his part, amiably praised Lang Lang for his performance and described the event as “an extraordinary evening.” …
“My Motherland” is not a “Chinese song” in any ordinary meaning of the term. Instead, it is a Mao-era propaganda classic: the theme from “Triangle Hill” (Shangganling), a film in which heroic Chinese forces fight, kill, and eventually beat Americans in pitched battle during the Korean War.
“My Motherland” epitomizes the “Resist America, Aid [North] Korea” campaign that Beijing embraced during and after the Korean War. It celebrates Sino-American enmity.
Okay, so the president doesn’t speak Chinese. But shouldn’t the program have been more carefully vetted? It was extraordinary: the United States is denigrated at a state dinner in the White House. And, as Eberstadt notes, while Americans are often tone-deaf to such gestures, the Chinese aren’t.
The “My Motherland” incident, for its part, may only be a foretaste of what lies ahead in U.S.-China relations. Note, for example, this week’s New York Times front-page story “China Grooming Deft Politician as Next Leader,” announcing Xi Jinping, the Chinese vice president and politburo member, as heir presumptive to Hu Jintao. Xi is lauded as “a brilliant politician” who “came to hate ideological struggles” and is known for “his conciliatory leadership style.” This is the same urbane pragmatist who delivered a speech in Beijing last October commemorating China’s role in the Korean War, a war Xi described as “imposed by the imperialist aggressors,” while Chinese and North Korean troops were waging “a war of justice to defend peace.” Xi even trotted out the long-discredited Communist lie that Americans used germ warfare in the Korean conflict.
After this embarrassment, the president went out of his way to praise China during his State of the Union address. Donald Trump scolded Obama for this, but, believe me, China was listening.