• Fri
  • Oct 17, 2014
  • Updated: 5:29am

Xi Jinping says world has nothing to fear from awakening of 'peaceful lion'

President issues message of peace, but use of quote attributed to Napoleon shows desire for more assertive foreign policy, analysts suggest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 9:08am

Xi Jinping's decision to compare China to the proverbial "king of the jungle" yesterday was seen as the latest sign that the president intends to pursue a more muscular foreign policy.

Xi used the lion metaphor in a speech in Paris to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with France.

He introduced it via a quote often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago: "China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world."

Watch: Journalist activists protest in Paris during Chinese president's visit

Xi told an audience that included French President Francois Hollande: "Today, the lion has woken up. But it is peaceful, pleasant and civilised."

The remark could signal a subtle but substantial shift in how China - the globe's second largest economy since 2010 - wants to be viewed by the rest of the world, analysts said.

In recent years, Communist Party leaders have sought to avoid any language that might feed into perceptions that China's military and economic rise was in any way threatening.

Former premier Wen Jiabao used the term "peaceful rise" to describe China's expansion into world affairs during a visit to the United States in 2003, only to have president Hu Jintao exchange it for the more innocuous sounding "peaceful development" the next year.

Jin Canrong , a professor of international studies at Renmin University, said Xi's speech suggested he was less afraid of stirring controversy than his predecessors.

"I am surprised by [Xi's] remarks," Jin said. "Xi is basically admitting that China is powerful, and that he is aware that some countries will be nervous about it, but they have to get used to China's status."

China has been more assertive since Xi came to power in late 2012, getting tough over regional territory disputes and vowing to develop a new model of international relations with the US.

Yesterday, Xi was careful to say that if China was a lion, it was a docile one. "Chinese people treasure peace and hope to seek, maintain and enjoy peace together with other nations in the world," he said.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the political science department at the Hong Kong Baptist University, said Xi's remarks represented a warning.

"Have you ever seen a peaceful, civilised and not aggressive lion?" Cabestan said. "A lion is a big, wild and predatory animal, very much like China in its relations with other countries."

The lion quote cited by Xi is well known, but historians are divided about whether the words were uttered by Napoleon.

One popular account has it that the French leader made the comparison while warning British ambassador Lord Amherst about conflict with China.

Kerry Brown, a professor of China studies at the University of Sydney, said Xi appeared to be using the lion metaphor to say China needs to be looked up to as a big player on the world stage.

"Xi, like other Chinese leaders, really wants to be regarded as a key important leader of a country which is reacquiring its position as a major player," he said.

Pang Zhongying , another professor of international relations at Renmin University, said China had long been focusing on economic ties with other nations, but it remained relatively weak on global security and diplomatic affairs.

"China needs to be, and is going to be, more responsive with more actions over global incidents that affect peace," Pang said. "Compared to the economic side, China is indifferent in political engagement."

Xinhua did not mention the lion metaphor in its report, but it released the full transcript of the speech. Other state media, such as the People's Daily website, released commentaries describing China as a large but responsible nation.

Xi arrived in Berlin yesterday and said China and Germany shared broader common interests and new co-operation opportunities.

"I look forward to working with German leaders to map out the blueprint for the development of China-Germany relations … to discuss co-operation and build up friendship and bring the China-Germany strategic partnership to a higher level," he said.


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This article is now closed to comments

dadada - save your breath. You are outnumbered by people who would tell you Li Wang Yang hanged himself to frame the PRC government.
Try and tell the difference between those who do not like the REGIME that is in power in China, and those who do not like China. There is a world of difference between those two things. If you can't tell the difference, maybe it's because you are so stupid as to not know the difference or are paid to ignore it.
Either way, please stay away from Hong Kong.
I wonder how many readers and commentators here are actual Hongkongese, and how many are so abhorred by China's rise that they have to make a nasty comment or two. What a loser's mentality!
China's rise is indeed very peaceful so far. Would any of you below say Diaoyu is Japan's? Would any of you argue that South China Sea is called that name for the precise reason that it is China's? The only difference between now and 10 years ago is that China now has military presence in these areas. And that is called threatening? You must be kidding me - just look at how many US troops are in the region!
Hongkongese who does not like China, please leave. You are not entitled to stay here as a Chinese.
The reason many in Hong Kong are vehemently in support of deciding their own political leaders is to keep the graft, corruption and cronyism in the mainland and away from Hong Kong.

International business leaders have noted that if Hong Kong does not maintain the strength of rule of law that Hong Kong's status as a financial center in Asia and world's most free economy is at stake. NOT that it is possible for anywhere in China to subsume Hong Kong's role. That role would go away from anywhere China has control.

As for sleeping lion, there hasn't been a time in the country's history where they could protect the population from their small neighbor Japan. Even the Mongols were defeated twice trying, arguably with help from a storm on both attempts; WWI occupation by the Japanese, WWII...

Currently the government has power via its buying strength. This is under large threats at the moment with rising debt to GDP, shadow banking issues and pricing themselves out of manufacturing with that work headed into S.E. Asia.

Don't kid yourself. If China is to rise to power and share some bit of influence, it will be as a Phoenix.
Exactly and some don't realize the large geo-political, economic and scientific implications where permanent member countries of the Arctic Council are claiming the North Pole and vast areas of the Arctic much larger than the South China Sea and far beyond their "borders". Then you get countries like Australia which claims 40% of Antarctica, but no one says anything.
It's the South China sea because its located South of China. Following your stupid logic, the Indian Ocean belongs to India and the Sea of Japan belongs to the Japanese.... Nonetheless, I would not call some islands 50 miles off the Philippine cost as being in the South China sea.
Senkaku islands belong to the Japanese. Get your facts right. Its Hongkongers.
This is so funny, they're trying to convince you lack of choice and freedom is terrific, like telling you **** smells great ... oh well, can't blame 50 cents gang. Not wasting anymore time here ... tata!
China has been trying to delay for as long as possible that it has become a world power again. It has come to the point that people won't just take it any longer whatever you say. As it is, let China play the real world power role. That is better for the world.
Usually, when a lion wakes up, he's very hungry and wants to devour something.
I hope Xi Jinping's lion is not too hungry.
In addition, the lion should be aware of the hunters (US/Japan).




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