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China Daily, the official English-language newspaper used to signal the Communist Party’s views to the outside world, said President Bush had taken a “wrecking-ball” to world affairs.
Its stinging rebuke was in marked contrast to previous commentary by Party advisers which stressed President Bush’s successes in improving ties with Beijing.
The comments, in the paper’s main editorial, went on to express scepticism for President Obama’s vision of remaking America.
“The US leaders have never been shy of talking about their country’s ambition to be the leader of the world,” it said, sarcastically. “For them, it is a divinely granted destiny no matter what other nations think.”
It said more was required than just the “goodwill” Mr Obama might generate around the world.
The financial crisis would limit his power to act, put strains on overseas alliances and lead to clashes with other countries’ interests, it said. He would most probably fail to win wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, broker peace in the Middle East, prevent Iran building a nuclear programme, or stabilise African countries.
“The realities on the ground are more complex than presented by Obama,” it concluded.
The new hard line may reflect individual embarrassment by China Daily, the only major state media not to censor Mr Obama’s speech yesterday. In fact, it carried the comments from his inaugural address saying that regimes which crush dissent are “on the wrong side of history” on its front page.
Yet China also sees current American weakness, due to the financial crisis and the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, as an opportunity for promoting its different approach to both internal governance and external relations on the world stage.
It has been effusive in its praise for President Bush’s conciliatory stance towards Beijing – and his insistence on attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics last year, despite calls for a boycott.
But it clearly felt its basic dislike of American interventionist policies be restated. “The world was holding its breath awaiting the end of President George W. Bush’s wrecking-ball approach to world affairs,” it said.
The paper also carried an aggressive commentary denouncing Henry Paulson, the outgoing treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, for suggesting that China might be partially responsible for the financial crisis for allowing savings to rise and consumption to fall.
“These remarks exhibit the obvious intention of the top US financial authorities to shirk their responsibilities for poor financial performances and shift domestic dissatisfactions to other countries,” wrote Shen Dingli, an international relations professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University who also advises the government.
Only the day before, the same newspaper said the financial crisis would draw America and China closer together.
Most popular newspapers in China have reacted more positively to President Obama. One website went so far as to portray him as Superman in a cartoon – albeit a Superman whose Chinese girlfriend refuses to lend him more money until he has learned to be more prudent with his finances.
The Chinese government has come under much criticism for investing so much of its foreign exchange reserves in lending to the US government – a policy it does not like but which it is forced to follow to avoid a too rapid appreciation of its own currency.
Individual internet commentators mixed admiration for President Obama and America’s values with some hostility to what were taken as references to China – in particular his claim that America had “faced down” communism and fascism.
“Obama is such a brainless country bumpkin,” wrote one, on the popular Sina.com. “It is already the 21th century and he still connects fascism with communism. This is a true failure of the USA.”
“No matter how attractive Obama’s personality is, the USA is still our enemy,” wrote “Son of China”. “What the American people can do, we can do as well.”
But others criticised the decision by state media to censor the speech, and compared President Obama favourably to their own leaders. “When will China have such a young and energetic top leader who will give us such real speeches, instead of making speeches which feels like they are a thousand miles away?” wrote ‘literate person’.
Richard Spencer – The Daily Telegraph
Copyright The Daily Telegraph