Crisis management types call it the “I am not a crook” denial. It occurs when an accused unnecessarily repeats an allegation, thereby reinforcing it the listeners mind. Richard Nixon is the most famous case of this. Had he merely said, “I am an honest guy,” the phrase might not have had such legs.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao had a similar moment yesterday. In Beijing’s first official confirmation of its Jan. 11 anti-satellite missile test, he told reporters that “China has nothing to hide.”
I met Liu at a lunch in Beijing a couple years ago and got the impression he’s a decent character. It was a brief encounter, but I’d tend to agree with the sympathetic portrayal of him from Richard Spencer of the Daily Telegraph. Spencer has a fascinating post here on the Foreign Ministry’s early efforts to respond to the news, and the U.S. allegations that China’s top leadership might have been out of the loop.
Liu may well be correct. But given China’s delay in responding to international concerns over the missile firing, “nothing to hide” probably wasn’t the best choice of words. After all, Liu used the same phrase in 2003 shortly before a massive cover-up of Beijing SARS cases was revealed.