Beijing struggles to overhaul its image The Statesman 13 Jul 2021 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Beijing struggles to overhaul its image The Statesman 13 Jul 2021

          A media report stated that in the past six months, Chinese state-owned newspaper, China Daily, spent millions to purchase media influence in the US. According to inputs, Time magazine, Financial Times, Foreign Policy and Los Angeles Times were amongst the major recipients of Chinese funding. In India, there are Chinese supporters, possibly on their paylist, whose writing defend Chinese viewpoints. China is struggling to improve its global image, even if it implies purchasing positive media coverage.

          During the CCP’s centenary celebrations, Xi attempted to project an image of power and determination. He stated during his address, ‘Anyone who would attempt to do so (bully, oppress or enslave) will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.’ This may have been aimed at impressing his domestic image, however across the world, China is at the receiving end, with nations, questioning its behaviour and crossing it’s redlines.

          Addressing the world political parties’ summit last week, Xi requested political parties worldwide to oppose politicising the COVID pandemic or attaching a geographical label to the virus. His statement comes after demands for a probe into the origins of the virus intensifies. China remains the nation blamed for intentionally leaking the virus. Demands for the probe rose sharply after Chinese wolf warrior diplomats angered host nation’s audiences seeking to transfer its origins to different countries.  

          Chinese president Xi Jinping, realising the global damage his wolf warrior diplomacy was causing, mentioned, ‘It is necessary to make friends, unite and win over the majority, and constantly expand the circle of friends (when it comes to) international public opinion.’ These words were too little and too late. The Chinese image has taken a beating and is unlikely to recover soon. Its current offensive and bullying tactics is enhancing Chinese negativity. While it’s few allies and indebted states maintain silence, their views on China are changing.

          China’s blood sucking Belt Road Initiative has begun taking control of vital national assets in return for non-payment of dues. China image is of a country grabbing iconic assets, degrading and humiliating indebted economically weaker nations. While governments may be compelled to part with assets as an alternative to repayment, the Chinese image of a bloodsucker grows. In Myanmar, Chinese factories are burnt, while in Africa, Chinese citizens rarely venture out, fearing local anger and retribution. In Pakistan, Chinese companies mention shifting offices outside the country, fearing that their current bloodsucking image would enhance insecurities and invite terrorist attacks.

          The level of distrust against China has risen to the extent that the US, amongst others, has reduced issuance of education visas to Chinese students. Those currently studying are being investigated, and if found to possessing ties to the PLA or CCP, are being deported. The global belief is that Chinese students are spies, sent to gain technical knowledge and should therefore not be permitted in critical research fields.

Demands for global investigation into claims of genocide in Xinjiang are gaining ground, despite China insisting it is an internal matter. Apart from nations who are indebted financially to China, most others have condemned its human rights record. EU, which almost signed the trade deal of the century with China, backed away amidst a diplomatic row over Xinjiang. Despite pressures, nations are crossing Chinese redlines at will.

          Chinese offensive approach against its smaller neighbours in the South China Sea (SCS) has drawn European nations into the fray. Germany, France and shortly the UK, will, alongside the QUAD, participate in Freedom of Navigation Operations in the SCS. The EU, which was tilting towards China, has drifted back into the US fold.

Beijing’s offensive intentions in the region pushed India and the US closer, adding to Chinese security concerns. The QUAD is gaining power, despite China criticizing it. India, which till recently, refused to be drawn into the SCS dispute, as it sought to maintain the Mahabalipuram spirit, is now advocating an open Indo-Pacific. This fear compelled China to threaten regional nations, like Bangladesh, on supporting the QUAD.

          China losing its power became evident, when India, which sought to avoid diplomatic clashing, changed its tune. The Indian leadership ignored the Chinese CCP centenary, as also for the first time in decades, an Indian PM publicly wished the Dalai Lama on his birthday. This displayed Indian intention of not normalizing ties with China amidst the unresolved border crisis, and in case China escalates militarily, India is prepared.  

Global support for the Tibetan succession issue is increasing. This is an open challenge to China, which has repeatedly stated that it alone possesses the authority to nominate the next Dalai Lama. Sometime in the future, this subject would pit China versus the rest. Indian support to either side would be critical as the Tibetan government in exile resides here.  

          China sought to present its autocratic single-party-rule as an alternative to democracy. It intended to project democratic nations incapable to meet aspirations of its populace. It attempted to exploit its dramatic economic and military growth to highlight success of single-party-rule. This collapsed as Chinese refusal to adhere to global norms and bullying its weaker neighbours, damaged its image.

The west successfully utilized cognitive warfare, severely denting any positive outlook China attempted to project. The western perception remains of China being a global pariah. China partially insinuated its population from external influence by banning global social media networks at home, however, its citizens abroad are being influenced and the reality reaches home.

          Chinese spokespersons devote greater time, defending accusations rather than enhancing China’s global image and accusing other nations of biases. While it continues to falsely display an image of bravado and little concern to global opinions, the realities are different. China, which should have been dominating global decision making is finding itself increasingly isolated, compelled to shore up its image.

It is for this reason that China is forced to purchase goodwill and positive reviews in global newspapers. It is possibly the only country purchasing respect rather than deserving it. Evidently, China has fallen from its grand pedestal.