Deng Xiaoping was fond of quoting the ancient Chinese proverb “Tao guang yang hui”, which is generally rendered: “Hide your brightness, bide your time.” The idea was to keep China’s capabilities secret until the moment was right to reveal them. Until then, the priority was to raise incomes and integrate the country into the global economic system.
Now China is comfortably the world’s second-largest economy and, quite possibly, on its way to becoming the largest. In Xi Jinping it has a leader whose articulation of a China Dream – “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” – is explicitly aimed at recapturing national greatness. The time for false modesty, it seems, is over.
China’s growing sense of itself as a country worthy of respect, even deference, has been noticeable since 2008. The Lehman crisis shook its faith in market capitalism in general, and in American infallibility in particular. Recently, the process has gone further. China is commanding more influence over foreign corporate executives, national leaders and journalists alike. In the words of Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, Beijing has revved up its “gravity machine”, exerting a stronger pull on those with whom it deals. Everyone from David Cameron, the UK prime minister, to Matt Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, has felt the effect.
Deng’s plan for economic take-off relied on attracting foreign capital and foreign technology. As China grows richer, however, it is no longer clear who needs who more. Beijing is challenging foreign companies over practices that until recently it might have considered acceptable. This year Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, was forced to apologise for his company’s “arrogance” in the application of a warranty programme to repair its iPhone 4s devices. Milk formula companies, including Danone, have been fined for engaging in supposedly anti-competitive practices. The latest example is GlaxoSmithKline, being hauled over the coals for allegedly bribing doctors and hospitals to prescribe its drugs. Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive, has already indicated that he will consider lowering the cost of GSK products. Foreign companies once had considerable leverage. But the new reality seems to be that China – the biggest and fastest-growing consumer market in the world – now has the whip hand.
Chief executives are not alone in feeling the force of China’s gravity machine. Britain was all but ostracised for a year after Mr Cameron had the temerity to meet the Dalai Lama. In April, when Fran?ois Hollande, French president, was granted an official visit to Beijing, some of his retinue barely hid their glee at trumping the British. What they did not say was that, unlike his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, he had refrained from meeting the Dalai Lama. France even returned two bronze heads looted from the Summer Palace in the 19th century as a sort of modern-day “reverse tribute”.
Mr Cameron seems to have learnt how to play the game. On his visit to the Chinese capital this month he was decorum itself. He hardly mentioned human rights. During his trip a British journalist from Bloomberg, a news organisation that published a story exposing the alleged wealth of Mr Xi’s family, was excluded from a press conference. Downing Street raised “deep concerns” over the interference. But the press conference went ahead without the journalist all the same.
Bloomberg has been in the thick of it. Along with The New York Times, another news organisation with the chutzpah to investigate the wealth of Chinese leaders, it has had trouble renewing Chinese visas for its journalists. Mr Winkler is alleged to have spiked a sensitive story on China, though he has said the article was “not ready for publication” and Bloomberg has denied any intimation it has compromised editorial integrity to protect its Chinese business interests. As Mr Schell says, however, there must be very few journalists – from whatever organisation – who have not given a second thought to Beijing’s powers of retribution. Even universities may not be immune. Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist lawyer who fled persecution to the US, accused New York University of prematurely ending his fellowship under pressure from Beijing. NYU, which has a newly opened campus in Shanghai, denies the accusation.
The most obvious example of China’s growing potency came last month with its declaration of an air defence identification zone covering airspace that includes islands disputed with Japan. Although Washington criticised the abrupt manner with which the zone was announced, it has told US airlines to comply with rules governing it.
More and more, then, China is dictating the terms with which it deals with its interlocutors. Much of this is expected, natural even, for a state that for two millennia was used to being treated as the pre-eminent power. That does not mean, however, that it will be easy for the rest of the world to take.
自2008年以来，人们明显注意到，中国越来越自视为一个值得尊敬乃至顺从的国家。雷曼兄弟(Lehman)的危机，动摇了中国对市场资本主义的总体信心，更让中国怀疑美国不是绝对正确的。最近，中国往前迈进一步，开始对外企高管、外国家领导人和记者发挥更大的影响。用美国亚洲协会(Asia Society)中美关系中心主任夏伟(Orville Schell)的话来说，中国政府开动了“引力机器”(gravity machine)，对与它打交道的人施加更强的作用力。包括英国首相戴维?卡梅伦(David Cameron)和彭博新闻(Bloomberg News)总编温以乐(Matthew Winkler)在内，许多人都感受到了这种力量。
邓小平的经济腾飞计划靠的是吸引外资和外国技术。但随着中国越发富裕，如今已很难说清楚谁更需要谁。中国政府在挑战外国公司的做法，而直到前不久，这些做法还被认为是可以接受的。今年，苹果(Apple)首席执行官蒂姆?库克(Tim Cook)被迫就iPhone 4s手机保修计划的实施问题为公司的“傲慢”道歉。达能(Danone)等配方奶粉公司因所谓反竞争行为而被罚款。最新一例是，葛兰素史克(GlaxoSmithKline)行贿医生和医院、让后者在处方中开它的药，因而受到了重罚。首席执行官安伟杰(Andrew Witty)爵士已表示将考虑降低药品价格。外企曾经影响力庞大，但新的现实似乎是，拥有全球最大、增长最快消费者市场的中国才是当今的主宰者。
感受到中国“引力机器”力量的不只有首席执行官们。由于卡梅伦冒失地会见了达赖喇嘛(Dalai Lama)，中国在之后一年内几乎没有搭理过英国。今年4月，法国总统弗朗索瓦?奥朗德(Fran?ois Hollande)受邀访华，想到自己压过英国人一头，他的一些随从掩饰不住兴奋。但他们没有说的是，与前任尼古拉?萨科齐(Nicolas Sarkozy)不同，奥朗德没有会见过达赖喇嘛。法国甚至交还了19世纪抢自圆明园的两尊青铜兽首，过去的受贡者成为了现在的朝贡者。
彭博社处于斗争的中心。与同样敢于调查中国领导人财富的《纽约时报》(The New York Times)一样，彭博社在给记者续签中国签证时遇到了困难。温以乐据称“压下”了一篇有关中国的敏感文章，但他表示该文“尚未做好出版准备”，彭博社也否认为了保护其在华商业利益而牺牲编辑操守。但夏伟表示，不论是哪家新闻机构的记者，都肯定会在中国政府强大的报复能力面前心生犹豫。大学可能也不例外。为逃避迫害前往美国的盲人维权律师陈光诚，指责纽约大学(New York University)在北京方面的压力下提前终止他的访问学者身份，但纽约大学驳斥了该说法。纽约大学刚刚在上海设立了新校区。