Chinese Reactions to the U.S. Debt Debacle

By Hannah Lincoln

What they say about America being a glass house is true – histrionics in Washington over the debt crisis have not gone unnoticed abroad. Unfortunately for those wishing to keep their cool about the matter, China has jumped on the debt-bashing bandwagon. The Senate’s debate over Obama’s bill made front-page news in China Daily every day last week, op-ed pieces in Xinhua and Global Times reveal dramatically impatient attitudes, and a massive banner on Xinhua’s homepage currently declares, “The Entire World Watches America’s Debt: It is Difficult to Overlook the Enormous Threat.”
Stan Abrams, a Beijing-based IT/IP lawyer and law professor, has been following Chinese media representation of the debt crisis on his website China Hearsay. In one of his pieces, “China Drinks Republican Kool-Aid, Blasts US over Debt Crisis,” he bemoans the propagation of misinformation by Xinhua, whose rhetoric has postured China as the responsible lender in a one-sided relationship (in my opinion, stirring up memories of post-Opium War Chinese literature). Abrams further notes that the measures America is taking have also been taken by China in its previous recession.
The Global Times – a branch of People’s Daily on par with The National Enquirer – wrote an Op/Ed that scolds the U.S. for its “folly” that will “sink the rest of the world”, and encourages China (which apparently owns one-third of the U.S. public debt) to “keep its nerve and champion its own core values, whether it is over U.S. debt or over its own development path.” Unnervingly, this opinion that the U.S. debt is a ticking time bomb about to explode the world past its four corners seems to be the majority opinion in China. And as Republicans have long known, the analogy lends to great propaganda.
Indeed, as a student of U.S.-Chinese Comparative Ways of Doing Things, I think lambasting America via state media is a not-so-well-disguised stab at the inefficiencies of democracy. The U.S. debt crisis is fodder for a very convenient metaphor, one that makes China out to be the stern and responsible parent lending money to a reckless teenager.
And maybe they have a point. But that issue will not be fully understood for many years to come and in the meantime, information distortion, finger-pointing, and fear mongering on all fronts will only sink the ship into icier water.