It could be said that China has engaged the west by fighting without fighting.
Which is why the Georgetown University men's basketball team received a Shanghai Surprise in its game the other night against the Bayi Rockets in China.
The game devolved into a fight worthy of the spectacle at the Palace at Auburn Hills, rather than the Great Hall of the People.
The only thing missing was an appearance from Ron Artest.
So much for ping pong diplomacy. Try KO diplomacy. All of the punches, kicks and chairs that were thrown represented a Great Leap Forward into what some dubbed "The Great Brawl of China."
Before their trip, the State Department advised the Georgetown players to think of themselves as sports diplomats on a mission to foster better relations between the countries
While on a diplomatic mission to China, Vice President Biden had just attended an exhibition match between another Chinese team and Georgetown the day before. This would have disintegrated into a major international incident had such an altercation broken out with the vice president in the grandstands for this game.
But there was an incident surrounding Biden's visit. Mike Memoli of the Tribune Company reports that Chinese security thugs roughed up some reporters while trying to cover some remarks by the vice president.
Two incidents. Two days.
This isn't your Nixon's China.
Rarely does a day go by on Capitol Hill without a lawmaker giving some speech, proclaiming how the U.S. is losing out to China. There are hearings about trade with China. Hearings on China's artificially inflated currency. Discussions about the growing strength of China's military. Forums on human rights in China. Symposia on China's environmental record. And during the most recent crisis over the debt ceiling, many pointed out how China holds staggering amounts of U.S. debt and gold.
Bruce Lee called it the art of fighting without fighting.
Lee died in 1973, after the filming "Enter the Dragon." It was first martial arts movie to become a major motion picture. It forever bestowed Lee with a special, posthumous status in the martial arts and entertainment world.
There's a pivotal scene in "Enter the Dragon" where Lee and others are sailing to a martial arts tournament. Lee was small, only 5"7" and about 135 pounds. But he was all muscle and lightning fast. In the film, a strapping bully is shoving deck hands around the boat, challenging them to fight. Each declines. Finally the goon gets to Lee and asks him his "style" of combat. Lee informs the man it's the way of "fighting without fighting." The man insists that Lee demonstrate some of his moves. Lee thinks about it for a moment and suggests they board a skiff tied up alongside the larger vessel. Lee points out there's an island in the distance and they can sail to on the skiff and spar on the beach.
After some consternation, the man agrees and climbs into the skiff. And then Lee lets out the tow line attached to the smaller craft. It sends the ruffian floating out to sea.
Fighting without fighting.
In recent years, "fighting without fighting" has been the modus operandi of China when engaging the U.S. Gobbling up U.S. debt. Producing goods at lower prices and selling them abroad. Hosting the Olympic Games. Marking the Yuan at one-to-one against the dollar.
Perhaps things are changing.
American energy and mineral firms find themselves at a vast disadvantage in Africa. U.S. firms adhere to certain environmental and labor standards when mining for riches in Africa. Not so when the Chinese enter the picture.
One cannot pin this exclusively on the contretemps that erupted on the court the other night or in the way the Chinese treated American reporters during the Biden visit. After all, the Hoyas and the Bayi Rockets had a cordial meeting the next day where the sides shook hands and talked. The rest of Biden's visit has been rather smooth.
But these two episodes, only hours apart, are demonstrative of an evolving, more muscular China. A China that's no longer deferential to the west. One that's more aggressive. One that could be more willing to enter into geopolitical fisticuffs rather than "fighting without fighting."
India is China's biggest rival. It's located in the same neighborhood, is also a nuclear power and boasts a similar population.
And unlike China, India is also the world's largest democracy.
It's clear that the United States bet on India as its ally versus China.
Congress returns in a few weeks. And the China rhetoric will ignite again. Discussions on trade, human rights, currency and debt will rise to the fore.
Granted, the Georgetown episode was just a basketball game. But competition between the lines has long served as a proxy war for certain nations. Look at all of the medal counting between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. Consider how the U.S. refused to participate in the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow after the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan. The Soviets returned the favor four years later at the Los Angeles Summer Games.
The same was true with the space race. One wonders how the U.S. might respond if China were to launch a serious effort toward conquering the final frontier.
But it will be interesting to study what if any influence these recent incidents in China have on America's foreign policy toward China. Granted, they are micro events. But they could impact relations on a macro level. Especially if China continues to feel its oats and becomes more confrontational in the coming years.
Perhaps the era of fighting without fighting is over.
Enter the Dragon.