Letter to the Editor: Obama Disappoints Chinese Liberals

Dear Editor,

Unlike their American counterparts who appear to be mostly against a military intervention in Syria, liberal intellectuals in China desperately want to see a Franco-American-led military strike. Weibo (the Chinese “Twitter”) has been of Chinese liberals expressing a desire to see the U.S. help bring Assad down as soon as possible.

Chinese liberals are perplexed as to how the U.S. can continue to tolerate inhuman behaviors by the Assad regime if it truly adheres to its liberal democratic ideals. After all, almost all arguments against U.S. military intervention now seem to be based strictly on self-interest, namely, the opposition is no better than Assad and the U.S. has little to gain if the opposition wins. However, if U.S. foreign policies are entirely dominated by self-interest, how can Chinese liberals still believe in liberal democratic ideals? And how can Chinese liberals respond to Chinese conservatives’ criticism of the U.S. if the U.S. itself is nothing but a monster which cares only about its own interests?

The consequences of U.S. inaction are broader than just the situation in the Middle East. Chinese liberals allege U.S. inaction now discourages people who still fight for their freedom all around the globe. In other words, the current situation in Syria makes Chinese liberals wonder whether they can trust any American president.  They wonder whether the U.S. can still be considered the leader of liberal democratic ideals — the proverbial “free world.” They worry that the same appeasement and inaction prior to World War II is happening again.

Evidence of the consequences of U.S. inaction may already be taking place.  North Korea has re-started a research reactor capable of producing plutonium for weapons at its Yongbyon nuclear complex; many Chinese liberals claim this is probably due to inaction by the U.S. on Syria.

“Dictators are quick to learn,” said a Chinese political science doctoral student at the University of California — Los Angeles. “President Obama has set a dangerous precedent on Syria issue [sic], namely that the use of chemical weapons could be forgiven if the user shows willingness to compromise and cooperate afterwards. I know that Obama needs to care more about the economy, the unemployment rate and the oil price now, but he needs to understand that freedom is not free.”

Of course, one could say that Chinese liberals are too idealistic on the Syria issue. They idealize both the Syrian opposition groups and U.S. politicians. Or they probably even see part of themselves in the Syrian opposition. But the question is who can blame Chinese liberals for being idealistic. After all, there is little reason for a Chinese person to be liberal today if he or she is not an idealist.

Tong Zhichao is a second-year M.A. Candidate at SAIS Nanjing.