One of the most frequently used buzzword about China is “face” – to “have” face, to “save” face, to “give” face, to “lose” face. But “face” doesn’t always matter, and it seems to me that there has been less talk about it in recent years anyway, even among foreigners.
I believe that cases like Ge Xun‘s do indeed backfire on China, but only in terms of image and soft power, and I don’t believe that this is where the CCP top-level’s priorities are. Chinese officials who still care about these effects, and semi-officials or academics from their vicinity who might have cared, too, remain silent (probably glad about the limited attention this latest case involving a foreign citizen of Chinese ancestry got after all), and probably, in the eyes of many, this has actually added to the CCP’s hard power: the CCP, in its dealings with foreigners, too, can do what it wants with impunity.
That the CCP invests heavily in its foreign propaganda – compared to Western trends, for example – is no real contradiction. Ample funding for CRI, CCTV-9, its international Mandarin services etc, as well as events like the current “China Cultural Year” in Germany, may not convince a foreign majority, but they will entertain a kind of early Christians, or rather early harmonists, who feel good with the semblance of normality and public life these outlets and activities are conveying. Besides, these activities don’t cost as much as other CCP projects, and the more globally-minded faction needs to be kept happy with a few budgets, too.
Many things that are said and done about China are based on wishful thinking. If the CCP can achieve its kind of stability at the current opportunity costs (as far as they can be assessed), they apparently believe it comes at a justifiable price. (If that will really spell stability at home in the end, or if it won’t, would be a different question, but they obviously believe it does.) Among foreign elites, anyway, the damage done by state security transgressions will be hardly noticeable, and on many [more “ordinary people”], it may actually have an intimidating effect.
The debate about Ge Xun is just another one that refuses to look at the CCP’s own resolutions, even though they are publicly available. The central committee’s Culture Document does include soft-power aspects, but only as one among many.
Quote from the document’s first chapter:
Ever since the day of its establishment, the Chinese Communist Party has been the faithful inheritor and advocate of the outstanding traditional Chinese culture, and the active initiator and developer of China’s advanced culture.
Fact, baby. Once you have come to understand this reality, you may address some of those – minor, aren’t they? – issues, but only in an appropriate fashion.
And that’s exactly what Beijing’s partners of choice are doing. The Bertelsmann Foundation (one of the Bertelsmann AG’s main shareholders) , the Körber Foundation (the foundation is the Körber AG’s sole shareholder), and the Robert-Bosch Foundation – all of them are saving Germany’s “face” in the “China Cultural Year 2012”, by funding a “dialog” series added to the culture-year event which is otherwise funded by the CCP.
This doesn’t look like an event that would reach the grassroots. It isn’t even top-down – it’s top-top.
To come full circle, regarding Ge Xun and similar cases: I believe that the state security’s next step will be to tackle foreigners with no roots in China whose activities – or simply tweets – they dislike, too.
Expect no great controversy in that case, either. Harald Jürgs, a German entrepreneur who was barred from leaving China in a business dispute in 2010 – on apparently rather questionable grounds – , never made it beyond the German embassy’s reception when he was seeking help there. He was, however, served with a list of solicitors.