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Dealing with China, America goes for Confucian honesty

Economist - Thu, 10/04/2018 - 16:43

IT TAKES nerve for a White House official to pick a fight with China’s government and claim that Confucius gave him the idea. Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, did just that with a speech at the Chinese embassy in Washington on September 29th. Citing Confucian strictures on the dangers of hypocrisy, Mr Pottinger urged his audience to take seriously the Trump administration’s decision to brand America and China as competitors. To ignore such an evolution in relations was to invite miscalculations, he added, dropping into Mandarin to recite the Confucian counsel: “If names cannot be correct, then language is not in accordance with the truth of things; and if language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” It was quite a moment. Read between the lines. A Trump aide was declaring an end to years of warm words about welcoming China’s rise.

Confucian scholars call this doctrine the “rectification of names”. As...

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