China has plans to move on claimed territories in the Pacific. It plans to become the imminent dominant regional player. They are also making geopolitical waves in Central Asia and in Africa—all around the world in smaller strides. With acts of diplomatic hostility and occasional militant actions from the regional players of the China Seas, the US has developed a strategy of military build-up in the Pacific with its sights set against any Chinese expansion.
America has chosen the policy of balancing through force what China is doing through stratagem. In all of this slow and soft action, the Chinese stealth still remains at an altitude below American might.
As the two super-powers make known the greater tension in their relationship, it is important to realize the symbolic clash between the two civilizations that arises underneath the surface of unfolding events.
The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are two entirely different worlds, represented by two grand and majestic creatures: one of an unrelenting courage and the other of a profound mystery.
The Bald Eagle defines the strength and boldness of an outstretched America. The mythical Eastern Dragon characterizes the patient subtle China. These symbols are the best emblems of historic nationhood and general characterizations of what a nation’s people desire to become. For various reasons, both national populations desire to see and fashion themselves after these strange creatures of nature and imagination.
The Eagle poses prideful on its perch, towering above all the others. With wings spread wide and with a penetrating gaze, it acts as the defender of its lofty position.
The brave Eagle has one main source of movement which is the power of flight. It considers itself to be the leader and the exemplar of independence. While it can be patient waiting for its prey, it has no desire to hop on the ground like others beneath it. Instead, it flies boldly forward to hunt with fixed purpose, keen vision, and a single direction. The Eagle knows exactly what it wants to consume and makes its position clear to all through its actions.
The Dragon is hidden and made invisible by a cloak of magic. It is secretive, careful, and stealthy. It watches from a faraway cloudy realm. It has no discernible direction. With no clear method of motion—no straight path—one moment the Dragon vanishes and then in a blink, it reappears. It can change shape and appearance at will, sometimes taking the form of another, if long thought strategy permits.
The Dragon also flies but not in the same way as the Eagle. It does not soar and it despises being put on display for fear of becoming a trophy. If it chooses to fly it is usually concealed and not for hunting its prey but for evasion from a threat. The Dragon can also slither close to the ground making little or no sound. It can crawl, swim the seas, or even coil in ready defense. It lacks a clear direction and always seeks a way to clandestinely get an edge over an opponent.
The Eagle is the architect of the world’s largest nest. It is both adventurer and settler. It spends most of its time working the skies and pioneering below. It is the most vigilant of guardians and flaunts its status with ferocity. When disrupted, it seeks vengeance on those that harm or threaten its global nest.
The Dragon is fascinated by its own power and wants a growing influence over human affairs. Therefore, it is usually disruptive and sometimes meddlesome in human lives and earthly empires. It is of the celestial order and in its own mind centered in being superior to all others. It will seldom display this feature for fear of envy. Superiority of this kind is found in blood and not in status or rank.
Where the Eagle is independent, the Dragon is social. The Eagle reigns with position and force while the Dragon reigns through the help of subtle arts and craft.
Eagles with sharp talons wage war. They fly directly into the path of what they seek to conquer. Dragons attack from the side. They apply cunning and with the help of things unimaginable to the enemy.
The best way to shoot down the pride of the Eagle is to have hunters with powerful guns take a steady aim when the bird is least expecting. The best method to stop the Dragon is by exposing its trickery and placing it before the people for justice.
Almost everything to know about the Eagle can be observed without much effort but almost nothing, even under close observation, can ever be learned from the Dragon. One therefore knows exactly what an Eagle is about to do but nobody knows what a Dragon is about to do.
The story does not lead to a happy ending for two clashing mythical icons. But what if they could learn from each other and avoid the great upcoming conflict? What if they could become greater nations than they are now? Might the two be represented by the mythical Chinese Phoenix?
The Chinese Phoenix represents justice and virtue. It follows a path of peace and harmony. It is much more like the Turkey that Benjamin Franklin casually expressed in private. A better moral character for the American people with little or no exploitation. It is a much more honest paragon to the Chinese people as well.
China could become liberal and transparent as it moves itself toward the Phoenix national emblem. It could be less sneaky, intrusive, meddlesome, envious and fearful. The US could become more cautious, patient, and humble. This would be a better path than the developing struggle of the rising Dragon in an Eagle’s shadow.
A similar article was published in Asia Times Online as The Eagle and the Dragon, June 23, 2012. It has been retitled and revised.