Scolding or welcome?

Before anybody melts down completely about the stinging “rebuke” our Prime Minister received from the Chinese Premier, can I ask exactly how sure we are that the insult was intended as an insult? I am looking around for an assurance, from somebody actually in a position to know, that this was indeed the unprecedented savaging/borderline casus belli that everyone but the PM himself is making it out to be. This position would, at a minimum, seem to involve having heard and understood the Premier’s words in the original Mandarin.

Taken literally, all Premier Wen said was that Canadian prime ministers should visit China more often. That’s assuming the translation was at all accurate. (Chinese doesn’t map real well onto English; it is full of ambiguity and embedded wordplay.) But even granting that assumption, Wen’s statement was like most semantic gestures in diplomacy; how one ought to react depends on how one chooses to read the words. Wen might have meant “Be more conscientious about your grovelling, insect!” He might have meant, or intended to say, “We value your company and our relationship with Canada; do drop by more often.”

Reporters like John Ibbitson and Bill Schiller are urging the first interpretation upon us, but only, as far as I can tell, on their own authority; I worry that we are missing the key quote from some Mandarin-speaking senior diplomat saying, in effect, “Damn, I’ve never seen a dressing-down like that, yo.” Is there one somewhere?

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