By Peter Ford
BEIJING – Chinese Foreign Ministry briefings are generally pretty dull affairs, the way such events are in many countries: reporters do their best to get the spokesman to say something newsworthy, and the spokesman does his best not to oblige them.
On Thursday, though, Qin Gang inadvertently broke the mold. He said that Barack Obama, being a black president who admired Abraham Lincoln’s role in abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, should sympathize with Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama.
He seemed to be making two points. The first was that President Obama’s skin color should make him especially sensitive to slavery; the Chinese government refers to Tibetan society before Chinese troops took over Lhasa in 1951 as serfdom.
The second was that Obama should learn a lesson from Lincoln’s opposition to secession, and support Beijing’s opposition to the Dalai Lama, whom the government here accuses of “splittism.”
Leave aside the fact that the Dalai Lama has repeated until he is blue in the face that he does not support Tibetan independence – only autonomy. Leave aside the fact that Obama has no slaves in his lineage.
The ministry’s spokesman appeared to be trying to make foreign audiences believe that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the moral equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, and that the Dalai Lama is a supporter of feudal serfdom.
Considering that most people outside this country’s borders see the CPC as the ones restricting freedoms, and regard the Dalai Lama as a moral giant, Mr. Qin showed a lot of nerve.
Nerve is a valuable quality in a press spokesman, of course. But Qin’s allusions to US history also displayed a complete disregard for – or misunderstanding of – how most of the rest of the world views the Tibetan issue.
Given that the Foreign Ministry is meant to be the agency of the Chinese government that is best informed about the outside world, and given that its spokesman is meant to be one of its diplomats best qualified to win foreign reporters over, that is worrying.