Last year China offered us L’Affaire Kitty Hawk (my long blogpost). Readers may recall that China had denied the US carrier Kitty Hawk entry into Hong Kong port for a normal Thanksgiving visit, an event followed by truculent explanations, but which in the end appeared to be a communciations eff-up. About the same time it also denied two US minesweepers entry into Hong Kong during a storm, a far more serious affront to the laws of the sea.

What many observers felt was strange was China’s abuse of the US Navy, because the Navy had done its level best to get along with the Chinese, treating them better than almost any other branch of the US government. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report observed at the time: “… China has had NO better friend, in terms of adult supervision of the relationship, than the US Navy.”

The fact is that there is nothing strange about this behavior; it is perfectly normal. Let’s expand on what I noted last year:

Anyone who has observed China’s relations with the outside world for any length of time has seen this pattern again and again. In the midst of negotiations with the Vatican, it consecrates two bishops for the state Church. In the midst of negotiations over the Olympic Torch coming to Taiwan, it denies a visa to the representative of the city of Kaohsiung to discuss the games to be held there in 2009. Arriving in India for negotiations, its ambassador announces a whole Indian state is part of China. Last year the Chinese government shut down an expat magazine in China that was widely considered the most sympathetic and supportive expat rag in that nation. After attending the ASEAN meeting in November where it has positive interactions with ASEAN members, it immediately goes out and holds war games in waters disputed by those nations, without informing them. And of course China gets the Olympics with promises to upgrade its rights situation, yet crackdowns on the internet and journalists intensify, while state security arrests double. Catch the pattern?

Now it’s France’s turn to be thanked for its hard work on behalf of China. Frankly I think it is wonderful that the Chinese are attacking France. France has been the one nation that has consistently supported China, emphasizing its “special relationship” and repeatedly arguing that the EU should break the weapons embargo caused by Tiananmen. It’s hard to know who to laugh at more here, the Chinese for protesting against one of their best friends, or France for imagining that friendship with China would ever be reciprocated. Welcome to China France — you’ve been Kitty Hawked!

Of course, the spectre of Kitty Hawkin’ also raises the question of what China will do to Ma Ying-jeou after he sucks up to Beijing.

Sadly, some of the amusing aspects of this affair faded yesterday as a westerner was attacked outside a Carrefour there for the crime of being a westerner. Let’s hope it was just an isolated thing.

The protests raise another issue: that of the economy. In the public mind Tiananmen is popularly linked with democracy protests though the issue is surely more complex than that, but that year, even though official figures showed comfortable economic growth, the reality was that there was a recession and local incomes shrank. No wonder there were protests. I’m curious whether what is happening with the outwardly-focused protests is an example of displaced anger that otherwise might be focused on the government for rising food prices, especially given China’s wildly unequal distribution of income….