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China Policy Institute: Analysis

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What now for the Rebalance?

Written by Ali Wyne.

As U.S. President Barack Obama approaches the end of his time in office, a convergence of developments is challenging his principal foreign-policy initiative, the effort to rebalance America’s strategic equities towards the Asia-Pacific. Continue reading “What now for the Rebalance?”

The Chinese Left: Contexts and Strategies

Written by Christopher Connery.

Let’s define the “left” broadly as standing against market fundamentalism, against the dominance of finance capital, and as advocating economic and social equality, worker and peasant power, and social welfare.[1] Most leftists worldwide share these values. A distinguishing feature of the Chinese new left, however, is that it is not, strictly speaking, an oppositional force. In most of the rest of the world, governments identified with the left or far left (Greece, Bolivia, Uruguay et al) face significant opposition from the further left. Continue reading “The Chinese Left: Contexts and Strategies”

Xi Jinping: Where Does the Power Come From?

Written by Kerry Brown.

The consensus on the history of the People’s Republic of China after its establishment in 1949 is that the last seven decades divides into two phases. The first until 1978, broadly covering the Maoist era, saw mass campaigns, Utopian visions guiding social development, and an ideology based on class struggle. After 1978, in the reform and opening up era, the focus shifted dramatically to making economic development and material improvements through marketization, privatization, and opening to the outside world. Continue reading “Xi Jinping: Where Does the Power Come From?”

Implications for China’s Soft Power under Xi Jinping

Written by Kingsley Edney.

Soft power has become a popular concept in China. When Hu Jintao mentioned soft power in his report to the 2007 National Party Congress he ignited an explosion of scholarly work on soft power and ensured that officials all around the country would take the concept seriously. As Hu’s administration promoted the notions of ‘peaceful rise’ (later ‘peaceful development’) and ‘harmonious world’, soft power in China came to primarily refer to ‘cultural soft power’ (wenhua ruan shili).

Nye’s three original soft power ‘resources’ — culture, political values and foreign policy — were trimmed to suit the party-state’s needs. Now that Xi Jinping’s leadership has shaken up Chinese domestic and foreign policy what are the implications for China’s soft power strategy? Continue reading “Implications for China’s Soft Power under Xi Jinping”

Is Chairman Xi taking China back to the Cultural Revolution?

Written by Jackie Sheehan.

Before considering today’s parallels with the Cultural Revolution, first let’s deal with the characterization of China’s current leader as Xi Zedong, or if you prefer, Mao Jinping. Accusations of a Xi personality cult are accumulating, and incidents like last month’s poetic outpouring by Xinhua News deputy director Pu Liye provide compelling evidence. Inspired by Xi’s visit to the newsroom, Pu, with “fingers burning on [his] cellphone”, invoked in verse the “admiring gaze” of Xinhua staff at their departing leader’s back as he “march[es] on with vigorous steps and rising head.”

It was natural that Mao’s “little red soldiers”, teenagers brought up to worship the Great Helmsman and with no access to alternate realities, might be overcome with emotion in his presence at the great Tiananmen Square Red Guard rallies in autumn 1966, and might even be moved to write embarrassingly gushing odes to mark the occasion, but it is less obvious what the excuse is for Pu, who from his job title we must assume is a competent adult.

Personality cults, however, are usually launched by someone other than their subject – starting your own, like choosing your own nickname, never quite sticks. For Xi himself to have instructed the People’s Daily to pepper its front page with a record number of mentions of his name is as unlikely as his having personally chosen the cute-yet-sinister “Xi Dada” appellation (“Uncle Xi” – at least whoever came up with it had the wit to avoid “Big Brother”) for the promotion of a folksy, down-to-earth image.

Xi does exercise personal control over every committee that matters in Zhongnanhai, but they still seem to be properly constituted committees that meet regularly, so this is not a Stalinist by-passing of normal lines of command by a charismatic leader overriding the principles of collective leadership. As Kerry Brown has pointed out in these pages, there is no evidence that Xi faced opposition from party comrades to the concentration of power in his hands that has occurred, or even that it was his idea originally.

More convincing than an individual power grab is the idea of a project of, as Matthew Johnson’s post has it, “re-building and re-legitimizing the party through the figure of Xi.” If this is to succeed, then clearly Xi’s leadership and conduct cannot be called into question, hence Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo’s TV interview urging his former industry to shut down its production of unofficial Xi commentary. Lee and two other Hong Kong detainees in the Gui Minhai case have all briefly appeared back in the SAR to warn the local police off further investigation, with Lee insisting on his freedom even while using the code that it was “not convenient” to disclose who was waiting outside the Phoenix TV studios to drive him directly back to the mainland.

The latest round of disappearances in China has also been sparked by an unwanted intervention in the Xi leadership debate, this time an open letter calling on Xi to resign supposedly written by “loyal CCP members.” It was published on an overseas website and then briefly, possibly unintentionally, appeared on the Wujie News website. 20 people had gone missing in connection with this letter at the time of writing, though most seem unlikely to have had anything to do with its writing or publication.

The first to vanish was journalist Jia Jia, detained at Beijing airport where he was due to board a flight to Hong Kong on 17 March. He had previously told friends he believed he was under investigation and might be detained, but he is clearly not one of the letter’s authors, as they “experienced the Cultural Revolution”, which had finished before Jia was born. Possibly his detention was simply because he had contacted Wujie News’ editor to ask about the letter and because he’s one of the usual suspects of the still-critical, non-Xi-worshipping Chinese media; at any rate, he has now been released.

The letter speaks of Xi’s concentration of powers in his own hands as leading to “unprecedented problems and crises in all political, economic, ideological, and cultural spheres”, and accuses him of “stunning the country” with further restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s hard to deny that we are back to early-70s levels of repression, persecution, and the proliferation of forms of arbitrary detention, all the more sinister second time around for being carried out with the full support of the law, as in the provision for detainees to be held away from home under “house arrest” which effectively legalized the disappearance without charge or trial of inconvenient people.

So if we are being taken back to the Cultural Revolution, it is definitely to the years 1969-76, as in the first three years of the movement, at times the most radical Red Guards were free to urge their peers to “doubt everything”, even to “doubt Chairman Mao.” It was precisely this brief taste of freedom early on that made them feel the backlash so acutely as the most radical groups became the first to be suppressed.

Mao’s personality cult eventually developed its own antidote as his 180-degree turns broke the spell over some of his most loyal followers, and once they lost faith in him, they gained the useful habit of questioning all authority. As the “Thinking generation,” some former Red Guards continued their activism past 1976 to help found China’s indigenous human-rights movement – it never was a foreign import.

Given this background, it was natural that the key demand of the subsequent Democracy Wall movement (1978-81) was for the ruling party itself to be brought within the law, so that citizens’ rights could be enforced rather than being in the gift of those in power. This still has not happened, and although Xi’s anti-corruption campaign might enable him to claim he will put “good bureaucrats” in charge of the system, that wasn’t enough for Democracy Wall, so why should it be enough 35 years later?

For Xi to establish Constitution Day and hold a party plenum on the rule of law can only be a standing provocation to dissent when in reality it is harder than at any point for the past 40 years for China’s citizens to speak, write, assemble, organize, associate, or worship as they wish.

Jackie Sheehan is a professor and Head of the School of Asian Studies at University College Cork. Image credit: CC by GovernmentZA/Flickr.

The Rise of Chinese Soft Power in Africa

Written by Adams Bodomo.

Is there Chinese soft power in Africa, and how does this compare with American soft power? Most people often begin discussion on soft power with the definition first put forth by American scholar, Joseph Nye. For me, soft power comprises the positive socio-political and socio-cultural influences a polity and its citizens have on another polity and its citizens without the threat of gun-boat diplomacy or even outright blind violence.

Seen in this way, I want to compare the US and China, the two most prominent soft power brokers in the world. I will claim that the US used to have a strong soft power in Africa but it is waning while China is beginning to register a rising soft power in Africa.

Socio-politically, the American political system does not seem to inspire as many people in Africa as it used to do, say in the 1980s and 1990s, especially under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Washington now appears to be supervising over a dysfunctional democracy. President Barack Obama, being someone of African origins, used to inspire Africans in the early years of his presidency but he has now become a man of sweet smelling but empty words as he has not been able to build on the hope that he promised at the beginning of his presidency. Africans have realized that Washington doesn’t have much further to offer them in terms of socio-political capital, with very few socio-political lessons to emulate. If Africans are not talking in loud tones and tunes against Washington it may be because we are uncomfortable with their hard power, we live in fear of Africom, of deadly drones, and callous imposition of sanctions.

On the contrary, China is having positive socio-political influences on Africa, African leaders, and ideologically literate Africans on the African streets. Many Africans now realise that the Chinese way of handling its political economy is far better than that of the fiscally irresponsible American and western governments in general. China and other prudent Asian economies bailed the world out of the banking disaster induced by some greedy western leaders and businessmen that caused untold hardships on Africans since 2008.

China, along with Russia, India and Brazil, is behaving towards Africans in a far better way than the US and its western allies, some representatives of which are often arrogant and haughty at international meetings within the UN system and beyond. America, Britain, and France often resort more to hard power, more to military invasion and gun-boat diplomacy, than soft power to convince Africans at international fora whereas China uses more of pragmatic and mutual self-interest diplomacy – more of soft power – to convince Africans at international fora, though of course we must mention that the rumoured building of a military base in Djibouti is an unfortunate attempt to emulate the hard power options used by western powers – and a step in the wrong direction by Beijing, if this rumour is proven right.

Socio-culturally, US soft power is waning in Africa whereas China’s soft power is increasing. The use of English in Africa is not – or no longer  – an example of American soft power, but the increasing learning of Chinese is an instance of growing Chinese soft power. Young people in Africa don’t think well of America and Britain as a land of milk and honey when they open their mouths to speak English, but young people in Africa learning Chinese do think of China as a land of opportunity with which they hope to trade or engage in other ways after successfully learning the language at the 50 or more Confucius Institutes springing up everywhere in Africa – great symbols of Chinese soft power in Africa.

Hollywood films and popular music have often been mentioned as symbols of American soft power in Africa but this is getting anachronistic. Africans are not looking at Hollywood and seeing good things in the American socio-cultural system and getting awed about it. Africans are looking to Hollywood to emulate good examples from their fellow Africans, from their brothers and sisters there, even if Hollywood itself appears to be tone-deaf about diversity. There are many successful Africans in America and Europe and Africans look to these people for inspiration, not to the racist socio-cultural constellation that is called America, where a Black man is gunned down almost on a daily basis. On the contrary, Chinese socio-cultural soft power aspects are rising in Africa. When young Africans practice Bruce Lee Kunfu styles they think positively of Chinese culture, this is soft power at the socio-cultural level. 

Research by myself and the Korean scholar, Eun-Sook Chabal, is showing that Africans in the diaspora are beginning to enjoy Asian popular music, particularly the cultural consumption of the Korean wave items like music and Korean TV drama series. When Africans consume these they consume Chinese and general Asian soft power products. Asian soft power is rising faster in Africa than American and general western soft power.  Chinese herbal medicine, particularly herbal tea in the middle class African living room, is fast becoming a popular Chinese cultural consumption item in Africa by the middle class. A lot of research still needs to be done here.

On a personal note, as someone who has attended many fora in China, America, Europe and met with many African, Chinese, and western diplomats and academics, on the whole the Africans are often more at ease, more relaxed with the Chinese side than with the western side. There appears to be more symmetry among Africans and Chinese and more asymmetry among Africans and westerners at such meetings. And symmetry has a solid, strong connection to soft power, as the title of one of my articles – “Symmetry, soft power and South Africa” –, a pioneering study on symmetry and soft power in Africa – China relations, shows.

There is Chinese soft power in Africa – and it is rising!

Adams Bodomo, a native of Ghana region of Africa, is professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna, where he directs the University’s Global African Diaspora Studies (GADS) research centre. Image credit: CC by European External Action Service/Flickr.

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