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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Young Chinese more wary of US
Primary school children in Beijing practice marching
Nationalism remains as central to China as Marxism
By Adam Brookes in Beijing

In the aftermath of the mid-air collision between an American spy plane and one of its own fighters, many Chinese are asking once again whether the US really is a benign power?

China's selective reporting has played to popular suspicion of the United States, in much the same way as Nato's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade did in 1999.

Chinese media reporting the spy plane crisis
Selective reporting has coloured views of the US
Although the Americans only partially apologised for the spy plane incident, it is imperative for Jiang Zemin, the president of China and secretary-general of the Communist Party, to be perceived as standing up successfully to them.

To really interpret what has happened over the past two weeks one has to understand that the nationalist impulse is as central to the politics of China as Marxism has been.

The US is both devil and divine: A source of learning and technology as well as spy planes.

"In the process of China's modernisation, the US should be our biggest partner, but I'm sorry to say it is also the biggest trouble-maker," says Yuen Ming, professor of international relations at Beijing University.

Washington's 'bullying'

For China's strategists, America makes trouble in many ways.

It takes what China sees as unilateral actions: It fights in the Gulf, it bombs Kosovo, it deploys soldiers, ships and spy planes in Asia, and supports Taiwan, the island state that China calls its own.


Sometimes we admire Americans and sometimes we think they are just bullies

Beijing University student

American researcher Eric Heginbotham believes China's strategic vision is one of anxiety because the country believes that it is being hemmed in by a chain of island states - Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines - which are increasingly co-operating with the United States.

"They see the US as sort of undertaking a conscious strategy of encircling China, so see themselves besieged and endangered," he says.

So for a young Chinese fighter pilot, buzzing an American spy plane is in fact confronting American power in Asia.

Ambivalent youth

At Beijing University, China's future elites watch world affairs closely and cynically. Many of them want to study in the US one day, but most believe America knows little of China and cares even less.

"Every year thousands of Chinese students do like to go there but sometimes America just acts like a policeman - they just want to take charge of too many states," said one student.

"Sometimes we admire Americans and sometimes we think they are just bullies."

Demonstrators against the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
The Belgrade bombing changed views of the US
These students are part of a generation in China that grew up after Chairman Mao and are far from isolated.

Professor Yuen Ming says: "If this generation get hurt, they are going to raise a lot of noise which definitely will make our leaders feel they have got to respond."

The young generation's attitude to the pax Americana that dominates Asia is ambivalent.

The bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade, perceived American support for Taiwan and the American spy planes that loiter off China's coast - all these factors render popular attitudes to America more complex, more combative.

And it is not a sure thing that China will gracefully globalise.

There are contrary influences at work - authoritarianism, the desire for military dominance in Asia, and underlying these, the sentimental, seductive, persistent call of Chinese nationalism.


Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

AUDIO VIDEO

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT
See also:

16 Apr 01 | Americas
15 Apr 01 | Americas
13 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Apr 01 | Americas
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