A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed a commercial billboard in a Chinese city. On the billboard, there was a photo of our president, wearing a nice jacket and standing on the Great Wall in his recent visit to that country. There were no words other than the name of whatever company makes that brand of jacket. Nice jacket, nice picture, nice-looking middle-aged man standing there, looking serious.
Of course Obama didn’t authorize that commercial use of his photo, and the White House took pains to point that out. The article left unaddressed the issue of whether Chinese authorities would crack down on the advertiser. I seriously doubt they would appreciate a photo of their president to be used in the US to, say, shill for Coke.
But what’s interesting is that the Chinese, apparently, have warmed up Obama—at least enough to potentially want to buy products that he’s (seemingly) endorsing. I recall early last year, soon after he took office, reading articles that reported the Chinese as not knowing how to react to the fact that the US elected a black president. This historic event ran directly counter to the longstanding PRC party line of the US being thoroughly racist. Of course, the Communist Chinese have not been a paragon of multicultural, multi-racial peace and harmony on their end of the equation. For example, the Tibetans and Uighurs have stories to tell.
With China largely funding our federal deficit, I’m not surprised the Obama administration has failed to push back forcefully on this billboard issue. Also, I’m dismayed, but not surprised, that Obama has not made human rights a focus of our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese leadership. No American president, of either party, would do that. It’s not as if that doesn’t matter. It’s just that China’s economy is becoming way too big and important on the world scene to tangle with them over this issue.
Look at it with historical hindsight. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the US economy was becoming the world’s dynamo, none of the European powers ever criticized us on any sustained basis for our disgraceful oppression, segregation, and disenfranchisement of African-Americans. It’s not as if our Jim Crow laws were a national secret. It’s just that the US was too powerful, and morally blinkered, to succumb to that sort of pressure.