When I was young, lithe* and had elastic knees I studied the Japanese martial art Aikido. Aikido is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, despite what you saw in all those Steven Segal movies, it is very much bound with a philosophy of acting in defense only. Second, in keeping with that philosophy, much of Aikido is designed around using an attacker’s energy against him. The harder you swing, the more you give an Aikido master to work with.
The Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection swung hard two days ago when he called out the US Embassy for monitoring air quality and publishing the results through its well-known @BeijingAir Twitter feed. The Vice-Minister said:
“Some foreign embassies and consulates in China are monitoring air quality and publishing the results themselves. It is not in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, as well as environmental protection regulations of China.”
For “some foreign embassies” you may read, “The Embassy of the United States of America,” which launched its Twitter feed back in 2008, that marvellous Olympic year when everything seemed possible.
The Chinese government first complained about @BeijingAir in 2009, so this isn’t a new issue. The latest demand seemed like a classic soft-power own-goal: a prickly and legalistic attack on a service many people, foreigners and locals alike, rely upon. Journalist James Fallows, who has written at length on China’s soft power challenges,summed it up: “The country is better than this.” But leave it to the US State Department, which runs the embassy, to take the Ministry’s mighty swing and apply a little soft-power Aikido.