jump to navigation

Chinese efficiency: LHR-PEK 27, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

China has just announced the opening of their new terminal at Beijing International Airport. To give it some perspective, this single terminal is bigger than all of Heathrow’s terminals put together and – better still – this gargantuan building, which is now officially the largest building in the world, was built for half the cost of T5 and took only four years from ground breaking to grand opening. T5, on the other hand, will have taken nearly twenty years. Obviously there are good reasons as to why T5 was so expensive, which hardly need explaining. However, my biggest problem is the time scale disparity: 20 to 4.  Twenty years is simply a ludicrously long time. If only we could resign ourselves and say ‘perfection takes time’ but we all know that like the Scottish Parliament (another staggering example of an utter waste of time and money, not to mention a complete and utter taste bypass), bits will be falling off in no time…

The Chinese media reaction to the Darfur crisis – caught between the old and the new 25, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The Chinese media reaction to the Darfur crisis – caught between the old and the new.

The Chinese reaction to the criticism of their Sudanese policies has varied widely. Liu Guijin the Chinese special envoy to Africa spoke eloquently to journalists in London last week. In excellent English, he calmly and coherently made the Chinese case. China was indeed trying to help in Darfur through various meetings and other mediums. China only supplies some 8% of the weapons to Sudan, he claimed, and professed confusion as to how stories exaggerating China’s arms exporting deals come about. “Is it a misunderstanding or is it intentional?” he mused. However, he reiterated the fundamental plank of Chinese foreign policy being non-intervention and was clear that China would only go so far in terms of persuasion. This particular example is similar to the Chinese response in front of the Western media as a whole: professional and slick.

This is in stark contrast to the Chinese domestic response to the same crisis, even in the English language news in China. Take Xinhua for example, the Governmental mouth piece. To choose two of their stories covering Sudan and China, one was titled “Sudan’s FM lauds China’s role in solving Darfur issue.” At a press conference with Liu Guikin the Sudanese foreign minister gave a statement as if it was written for him by the Chinese:

“China is using its good relations with Sudan to help it solve the Darfur issue…China is not here to help Sudan in a way that will prompt the Darfur conflict to continue. China is here to help Sudan in issues regarding economic developments. China is here to help build Sudan, and China is engaged in business not only in the oil sector, but also other sector…[Commenting on some Western organizations’ threat to boycott the Beijing Olympic Games] What they should do is to solve the Darfur issue in a right direction, instead of putting more pressure on China.”

It seems that the Sudanese English language newspapers were equally on message, as quoted in Xinhua:

Sudan Vision, the largest English-language daily in terms of circulation, ran an editorial in both English and Chinese, the first of its kind by a newspaper in Sudan.

“Indeed, Chinese leadership and media refused to trail behind Western fabrications on Darfur, and have instead firmly stood in the face of pressures put on it because it is fully aware of Western attempts to capitalize on the African problem to pass its own agendas which did not change since the colonial era,” the independent daily said in the editorial.

“We have every right to mock at the flawed voices attempting tolink the Olympic Games China will host to the Darfur problem. Such cheap attempt will not affect the eligibility of China for hosting this international activity in the best manner,” the editorial said.

“We, too, appreciate China’s repeated call for political dialogue to resolve the Darfur issue, contrary to Western pressures on Sudan,” it said.

“But the way Western countries dealt with the issue, providing Darfur rebels with funds, weapons and political support, made the rebels reluctant to reach peace. Not only that, the West has continued to use rebels as pawn to achieve its target,” said the editorial.

 

Such flagrant bias would simply not be tolerated in Western media. Indeed, it would surely be treated with the scorn and contempt that it deserves. What is more puzzling is that China appears to realise this, at least to some extent. You don’t see them peddling this kind of insipid and transparent dialogue in the West, not that they could find (one would hope) a Western newspaper to promulgate Beijing’s line in such an obsequious manner.

Victor Mallet of the Financial Times recently wrote an interesting piece tangential to this theme. He suggested that Beijing ought to open up its media to a greater extent, to allow Chinese people to decide the pros and cons for themselves. Then, “its officials and citizens would be better prepared for the onslaught of criticism and political activism likely to be directed at Beijing’s domestic and foreign policies ahead of the Olympic Games.”

Beijing’s cautious, simplistic and anachronistic assumption that such sycophantic reporting is the safer way to proceed to minimise protest and disharmony is sure to backfire.

Firstly, if people do indeed believe such stories in their entirety then, as Mallet points out, they will be shocked and none too happy with the Western media coverage of events in the lead up to the Olympics. This will create a feeling that the Western media and thus the West are unjustly attacking China just as it is about to take centre stage in one of the most significant events in its recent history. Again, one must not underestimate the importance of the Olympics to the Chinese, in terms of the pride with which they take in hosting it and the prestige that they believe will bestowed on China because of it.

Secondly, for those who read such reports with a wry and rueful smile, the Chinese government are doing themselves no favours. Such reporting suggests gullibility on the part of the reader: not a nice assumption to be fostered upon anyone. Disenfranchising swathes of citizens (and it is surely swathes: most people don’t really take these reports seriously?) will only push them to seek more sources of news, something which the Government seeks to keep under control.

Overall, such reports smack of the old days; of absurd communist pre-Perestroika press or even of Comical Ali, where press reporting was decidedly more fiction than fact. And, to reiterate, the Chinese know better: they show that they do in their modern, fluent and professional Western media interviews. They must not think that they can keep – á la King Canute – the tide of free press and free discussion away from their citizens, it is simply not feasible and, in the long run, not advantageous.

 

The Beijing Olympics and China’s evolving foreign policy 14, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Foreign Policies.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

A recent article in Foreign Affairs suggests that China is modifying its foreign policy. “Over the last two years, Beijing has been quietly overhauling its policies towards pariah states” the authors claim. They then proceed to make a very convincing case almost to the contrary of this statement. Indeed, their evidence at best suggests that China is improving its foreign policy image, without substantial changes in the nuts and bolts. Furthermore, what their ample and well researched evidence suggests to me is that Beijing is being as pragmatic as ever in the pursuit of its foreign policy.

China’s dealings with pariah states are well known. It has intimate relations with despotic North Korea, racist Zimbabwe, genocidal Sudan and terrorist-propagating Iran, to name but a few. The article, however, suggests that there is evidence that in recent times China has been playing a much more forceful hand towards these states, especially when they have fallen under international pressure. They cite many instances of China’s apparent change of foreign policy in recent years.

Regarding North Korea, amongst various other Chinese policies, the authors praise Beijing’s crucial role in forcing North Korea to the negotiating table in 2003. The singing of the UNSC resolution 1696 demanding Iranian suspension of their Uranium enrichment programme is seen – rightly – as a change in step by China. The important role of various Chinese ministers and special envoys in getting Sudan to accept foreign troops in Darfur is also a worthy argument, auguring towards a potential change in Chinese foreign policy. Also, the authors suggest that there has been a distinct cooling in Sino-Zimbabwean relations, despite the lack of significant international pressure, suggesting that China might have proceeded with this change in policy for internal reasons i.e. their overall change in foreign policy.

However, as the authors point out themselves, at every stage of these apparent changes, there were wholly pragmatic reasons for the Chinese to do so. The authors, however, do not fully appreciate explore this reasoning. In the example of Zimbabwe, with the economy plummeting and inflation rising as they have been for some time now, any Chinese investment was simply not seeing any real return. Thus, the cooling of relations between these countries is not, I would suggest, primarily because of Chinese human rights concerns, but simply motivated by basic economics: why would they invest heavily in a country with either poor or no return? The examples of Sudan and Iran can be explained by China’s increased vulnerability to international pressure, for the next year at least. It is difficult to underestimate the importance that the Olympics has for China. Whilst there are a significant number of people in the UK who are generally apathetic or even hostile to the London 2012 Olympics, people in China tend see this as an opportunity to extol China’s virtues after its century of humiliation. Indeed, as for back as 2003 there were Olympic t-shirts abounding in the markets of every Chinese town and Chinese people, when they stopped you in the street to talk (a daily occurrence), would frequently chat about the Olympics. It really is taking on a different level of importance in China. Thus, any notion that it might be branded the Genocide Olympics is a serious political concern for China. It genuinely seems likely that China would modify its international politics to some degree in order attempt to preempt or assuage the most vociferous anti-China voices and protect their Olympics from ridicule, protests and marginalisation.

These are only hypotheses. However, these are the simplest and to my mind the best explanation for China’s minor changes in foreign policy in recent years. They are an ultimately rational and pragmatic actor. When the benefits of interaction outweigh international displeasure, then China will ignore international displeasure and trade with the countries in question. However, if and when this calculation shifts – as it has done when the Beijing Olympics are considered – so does the Chinese position.

 
 

The engine of China’s soft power boom 4, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Soft Power.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The Taipei Times ran a story today complaining about the pervasiveness and effectiveness of Beijing’s Confucius Institutes. These are a relatively recent foray for China. These centres appear to be run along similar lines to Britain’s British Council, France’s Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe Institute. This is to say that they are there to promote their home country where ever they may be. This is done in many ways. Activities can arrange from arranging music concerts, literary events, organising language classes to disseminating educational material about the home country.

The nameless official in the Taiwanese government claims that “they [the institutes] are controlled by the Chinese government and aim to use education and culture to gain international influence and promote the viewpoints of the Beijing government.” This is as good a definition of soft power as you can get. Indeed, as I have argued before, China have been significantly investing in this aspect of power in recent years. These Confucius Institutes are but one successful aspect of this. It is unsurprising that Taipei are not happy about their number and effectiveness – both Taipei and Beijing essentially propagate a one-China policy with each seeing itself as the rightful leader of the country.  It is of course possible that China are using such institutions as some kind of ‘front’ for underhand espionage (indeed, they have shown no qualms whatsoever about stealing from other governments in the past) but this does not seem that likely. However, the official is not even inferring this – merely that China are promoting their culture – hardly the greatest of crimes. Indeed, the world will be a much safer place if China continue down this path of expanding their soft power and forgo the hard power route of coercion and threats.

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2008/01/31/2003399603