Citing a number of issues in the news (see links there), Rectified Name states that China keeps scoring own goals in terms of soft power, when it comes to the question as to how to react to unwelcome events somewhere abroad.
This mixture of criticism on the one hand, and advice to China’s dictators as to how to improve their image on the other, are a pattern that emerges regularly, frequently among Westerners, but I’ve also seen a Korean example. This approach, however, leaves a few crucial factors out of the account.
For one, it is diplomats who will care most about soft power. Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, isn’t even a politbureau member. Like state-sponsored scientists, diplomats may compile working papers, but they are probably not calling the shots.
Obviously, China’s rulers would rather like to see the Dalai Lama under quarantine in Dharamsala. But to suggest, in this context, that Beijing will only get the opposite of what it actually wants, ignores the fact that there is already a number of countries where the Dalai Lama is unlikely to get a visa for the rest of his lifetime. Much more vital questions – if basically market economies can afford trade with a state-capitalist economy without a plan of their own, for example – aren’t even seriously discussed in Europe.
Another – related – misconception is that to be viewed positively would be the CCP’s “A” priority. It isn’t. They want a nice image for themselves and for China, but not as an end in itself. They rather want a nice image and control, but control comes first. From Beijing’s perspective, to become successful in both these fields will mainly be a question of perseverance – and of their “opponents’” self-overestimation.
Under these circumstances, scoffing at Beijing’s regular “representations” amounts to burying one’s head in the sand.
Rather than doing that, we need to ask ourselves where we want to be in ten or twenty years. If we still want our politicians and event managers to be the masters of their own appointment diaries by then, we’d better stop laughing at Beijing’s “own goals”, and start thinking instead.