China’s foreign policy quid pro quo 21, January 2008Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Foreign Policies, Saudi Arabia, Soft Power.
Tags: China, China's foreign policy, Faustian bargain, Freedom House, immoral foreign policy, Saudi, Saudi Arabia, Soft Power, Western foreign policy
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On any given day China announces various deals, exchanges, missions, activities, exhibitions, events, parties, celebrations, and agreements between itself and any given country. On Thursday last week, it was a technological and scientific agreement with Sierra Leone. On Friday, as reported, it was various cultural exchanges in Malta. What, you might be asking, do Malta and Sierra Leone have in common? The short answer is nothing. Obviously, they need investment and/or support in ventures, but that is hardly a distinguishing feature, after all, who doesn’t? These countries are simply the latest recipients of attention by Beijing and its prodigious foreign police making machine. No country is too small or seemingly too insignificant for Beijing’s attention in a concerted campaign to make friends and – more crucially – influence people.
To this end, China has been making vast steps forward in expanding their soft power. This is a kind of power whereby – crudely put – the country or actor in question will do what China want them to do because they see their goals as being shared by China, they want to follow China’s lead out of loyalty or a belief that it will be to their longer term benefit to do so. Soft power is conveyed in a myriad of ways. It can be through an attentive Ambassador including local business leaders in meetings or conferences, the exporting of a country’s culture through music, theatre, films or technology, thereby theoretically creating a better understanding or empathy or it can be the education of diplomats in Beijing – getting them used to the ways of the Chinese and making contacts that they may well find useful a at later date. China have been pursuing just such polices in East Asia recently with considerable success.
The opposite of soft power is – unsurprisingly – hard power, which is coercion of one form or another: you don’t follow China’s lead because you want to, but because there are implicit or explicit military, economic or diplomatic threats. Whilst the use of hard power can be effective, it is surely better to persuade and finesse countries towards your goals and ends, as opposed to being pressed into doing so, inviting resentment and general antipathy.
But what are these policies and why does China care if they have relations – good or bad – with Sierra Leone or Malta? Most of the time China seek resources or one kind or another. This is clearly the case in Sierra Leone where the Chinese have been harvesting timber (often illegally) for years. In the Maltese case it would be more accurate to say that the Chinese simply want – like all countries – good relations with all countries. However, the Chinese also want one other thing which is utterly central to all of their politics and policies: international recognition and corroboration of the one China policy. This was explicitly reported in the Xinhua report of the Sino-Sierra Leone cooperation agreement and is implicit in every other Chinese policy.
This is the crux of their soft power policies. In return for a countries strict adherence to an avowed police of utter sovereignty and non-interference in other states’ affairs, China offer both unusual support even of smaller countries as well as, crucially, a reciprocated and fervent promise not to interfere in their policies. This policy leads China to deal unusually closely with some of the world’s more repressive regimes.
There are two distinct points of view to this. Firstly, from the other country’s perspective, China offer its help without conditions. There are no human rights complications, no promises for elections, and no pressure for free press. Countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe appreciate China’s unquestioning support in return for arms, oil, trade or whatever is on offer. These kinds of policies – unsurprisingly – draw considerable international criticism. The Chinese charges d’affairs in South Africa recently defended China’s policies of engagement, trade and interactions with Sudan and Zimbabwe by saying that China was ‘simply protecting its own interests’.
Others, notably those from the West, find China’s foreign policy of interaction with often deeply despotic and repressive regimes anything from unfortunate to disgraceful. There is, strictly speaking, no right answer. Whist it is easy for the West to harangue China for these policies, we are not speaking from an unsullied pulpit ourselves, both historically and presently speaking. Selling billions of dollars of arms to various countries in the Middle East, all of whom fair poorly to atrociously on the Freedom House index, does not lend us the high ground. Nevertheless, entering such a kind of Faustian bargain with Saudi Arabia is better than the alternative of non-interaction. Take the recent example of the multiple rape victim in Saudi Arabia who was herself going to be flogged as she was sitting in a car with an unrelated man. The opprobrium that this created in the West was translated into international pressure heaped on the Saudis and can surely be credited with pressuring the Saudi King into pardoning the women. Would this have happened if China had been the major trade partner and the West not had any kind of sway? Obviously not.
What this goes to prove is that interaction is needed – but it must be the right sort of interaction. There is a fine line between exacerbating the problems inherent in the countries in question by trading with them, enriching and/or arming the elite, and simply ignoring them. Simply leaving the states as international pariahs will not work. Into this morally created void will walk China, shoring up the regime with trade and reciprocal promises of non-interference. One can only hope that through interaction with the West and the exchange of Western soft power, grandiose notions such as democracy and rights will filter down however slowly and become embedded to help guard against the seductive allure of a mechanical foreign policy of naked self interest.