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Play one person off against another

[ 2011-06-14 13:05]     字号 [] [] []  
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Play one person off against another

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Cambodia struggles to play China off against its other neighbors.”

My comments:

It means Cambodia would be better off if it could find some wiggle room between China and its other neighboring countries. Specifically but without going into specifics, it would do well to make use of disputes and differences between China and its other neighbors.

To put it very bluntly, Cambodia will do well if it can keep all its neighbors busy beating up on each other.

If, that is, Cambodia can pull it off – make it happen. Currently it struggles, i.e. finding that task difficult of accomplishment.

At any rate, the point is to have one’s neighbors busy beating up on one another. That’s what it means to “play one person off against another”.

This idiom, which is aptly very widely used in geopolitics, means that one country gains by having one rival fight against another one.

Suppose Cambodia is playing poker with China, Viet Nam and India. It, being small in territory and population, has a weak hand, i.e. a handful of cards that are of smaller numbers. On the other hand (no pun intended), China, Viet Nam (its closer neighbor) and India (a little further to the west) all have a better hand, i.e. wielding many big cards or trump cards.

In this situation, it won’t be too hard to imagine that Cambodia would be better off to see China, Viet Nam and India beating up on each other.

I mean, if China, Viet Nam and India would all use their trump cards on Cambodia, and then where will we be?

“We” as Cambodians, I mean. In other words, unthinkable.

Anyways, the idiom “to play someone off against someone else” means, once again and in geopolitical terms for Cambodia, that you as a small country can best eke out a living or survival when other rivals are busy fighting each other.

And you always gain by keeping them that way (fighting each other), so that they will never find the time to beat up on you.

Here are media examples:

1. FAKED votes, cracked skulls, a jailed opposition, beaten-up protesters and relations with Europe in tatters. This, in short, is the result of December’s presidential election in Belarus, in which Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a Soviet thug, declared himself the winner with an improbable 80% of the poll and returned to govern for a fourth time.

European leaders, who had promised Mr Lukashenka cash as a reward for decent elections, seemed caught by surprise. They should not have been. Some have now condemned Mr Lukashenka’s actions. For the sake of the region, the Europeans need to go much further.

Opposition leaders in Belarus were under no illusions before the vote. But they saw a chance to appeal directly to the people and to demand real elections. By contrast, Mr Lukashenka saw a chance to cleanse Belarus of any opposition.

The latest crackdown has been brutish even by Mr Lukashenka’s dismal standards. After what looked like a staged provocation, riot police started indiscriminately pummelling an opposition crowd of 30,000. Activists were hunted down by the KGB in their homes in the middle of the night. Andrei Sannikov, a former diplomat, and his wife, Irina Khalip, a journalist for Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, are both in jail facing long sentences. Their three-year-old son has been threatened with state custody. Vladimir Neklyaev, a poet and candidate, was taken to jail from a hospital bed after being assaulted.

Mr Lukashenka has been protected by his ability to play Russia off against the West. Although Russia lost patience with him last summer—and even encouraged the Belarus opposition—the risk of another colour revolution ultimately outweighed the inconvenience of dealing with him. He got the Kremlin’s support in a deal shortly before the elections—and the violence is only likely to bind him closer. Mr Lukashenka is again a pariah in the West and more dependent on Moscow than ever: both Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russian Orthodox Church, made a show of congratulating Mr Lukashenka on his victory.

- Elections in Belarus, The Economist, December 29, 2010.

2. With a peak deployment of some 60,000 troops, and some $15bn spent on foreign assistance, Bosnia was NATO’s largest venture until Afghanistan. It was the first post-cold war test of the transatlantic relationship and gave early impetus to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. But sadly, after a decade of moderate success, the last four years have seen a serious deterioration in Bosnia’s stability. Relations between ethnic groups are more polarized then at any time since the fighting ended, and Bosnia risks falling out of step with its neighbours and missing the train to Europe. A return to violence, while not likely, remains possible.

One of the main lessons of the last two decades in the Balkans is that both European and transatlantic consensus is crucial to successful policies. Without consensus, the various parties on the ground can play the U.S. off against Europe or Europeans off against one another, thus debilitating the international effort. Today, the U.S. and Europe need to regain their common approach to Bosnia or risk losing their investment.

- Bosnia needs a renewed transatlantic effort, Europe’s World, Autumn 2010 issue.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Window dressing

Take a backseat to nothing

Cherry picking?

Push comes to shove?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)