China’s “Soft-Power Own Goals”: Stop Laughing, Start Thinking

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.

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6 Responses to “China’s “Soft-Power Own Goals”: Stop Laughing, Start Thinking”

  1. The patronizing attitude of people who “wish China well” never fails to astonish me. If I read websites about China more often, maybe it would not.

    As you say – in ten, twenty years people may notice that there weren’t so many own goals. The “communists”, who read their Machiavelli, their Luigi Amoroso or whatever Chinese equivalent, probably get to the conclusion that soft power is nothing without hard power.

    “Face”. My ass.

  2. who read their Machiavelli, their Luigi Amoroso or whatever Chinese equivalent

    Umm… Sunzi? Or Mao Zedong himself?

  3. Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis.

  4. Well, I hope it deserves to be called thoughtful, Neru. I think it is basically legitimate to laugh about certain utterances from Beijing – I’m doing so myself, once in a while -, but the process must not stop there.
    I suppose that to add some thought and self-examination to the laughter is something many foreigners don’t like to do, because they feel that it might call their self-perception into question. Self-delusion is no particular Chinese trait; but it is frequently believed to be just that – possibly because Lu Xun and other Chinese intellectuals broached the problem extensively, and their thoughts were usually focused on their own country and people.

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