China’s aggressive soft power corrosive of democracy, sovereignty



China has officially embraced Joseph Nye’s theory of soft power, using it both as a justification and as a new euphemism for the Chinese government’s expanded and revised overseas Chinese and foreigner management techniques and propaganda offensive, says a leading analyst.

Revelations that a lawmaker had been a member of the Communist Party in China and taught English to spies there have raised alarms about Beijing’s influence in New Zealand — and how well the political parties there vet their candidates, The New York Times reports:


Jian Yang (right), a lawmaker with the center-right National Party, did not declare his past Communist Party affiliation or his work teaching spies in China on his New Zealand citizenship application. …, Mr. Yang’s background was exposed in a joint investigation by The Financial Times and the New Zealand online media outlet Newsroom. While New Zealand is a small country, it is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing partnership along with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. And so vulnerabilities in New Zealand’s government could have wider import.

Anne-Marie Brady (above), a political-science professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, said that since the ascension of President Xi Jinping, China’s government has mounted an aggressive campaign of using soft power to influence New Zealand’s politics, economy and society, including through campaign donations….Ms. Brady said that this year “a Chinese diplomat favorably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s.”

In the classic Cold War-era film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, aliens quietly invade earth by replicating the bodies of each human being they encounter. The resulting ‘pod people’ take on the physical characteristics, memories, and personalities of the humans they replace. In its day, the film was understood as an allegory for political influence activities, notes Brady.

“It speaks to an ongoing fear about the vulnerability of open, democratic societies to foreign influences undermining their sovereignty and their politics,” she writes. “China’s foreign influence activities have hit the headlines in both Australia and now New Zealand, but Chinese influence is not unique to these two countries. China’s attempts to acquire political influence abroad are widespread and pervasive.”

China’s foreign influence activities have the potential to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of the political system of targeted states, Brady wrote in a recent paper presented at the conference on “The corrosion of democracy under China’s global influence,” supported by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

Beijing’s soft power activities are part of a global strategy with almost identical, longstanding approaches, adapted to fit current government policies. They are a core task of China’s united front work; one of the CCP’s famed “magic weapons” that helped bring it to power, said Brady, a contributor to Authoritarianism Goes Global.

China’s cheer squad facing scrutiny

Reports that Australia may become engaged with China’s One Belt, One Road initiative are also generating concern.

The Herald Sun reported that members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, which Labor MP Michael Danby [right, a leading figure in the World Movement for Democracy] has described as a “as a business front” for the Communist Party, have in recent years donated $6 million to the Liberal and Labor parties.

China’s increasingly pervasive economic influence has contributed to the populist and antiglobalization movements that are now taking hold in many countries in the West, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan. With China’s power rising, its rulers no longer accept being so tightly hemmed in, he writes for The New York Review of Books.

The regime is hypersensitive about its image because of its shallow legitimacy at home. This has led it not only to engage in standard public relations and media work around the world, but also to use diplomatic pressure, visa denials, financial influence, surveillance, and threats to try to control what journalists, scholars, and Chinese students and scholars abroad say about China. The effort to silence critics extends to human rights institutions like the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, where China works to assure that it and other authoritarian regimes are not criticized; it even reaches Hollywood, where studios eager to gain access to the Chinese market increasingly avoid unfavorable portrayals of China. This offensive poses a special challenge to the West, one in which the usual cliché about balancing values and interests in foreign policy does not apply. As China extends its efforts at thought control beyond its own borders, our values are our interests.

“The US must defend international standards of human rights and freedoms more strongly than it has in recent years; it makes no sense to defer to the loudly voiced sensitivities of the Chinese regime even as China interferes more and more often in our freedoms,” adds Nathan (left), a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “Competition, friction, and testing between the United States and China are unavoidable, probably for decades. To navigate this process, the US needs an accurate assessment of China’s interests, but even more of its own.” RTWT

China is also competing with India to project soft power — or cultural influence — outside their borders, amid concerns in Beijing that it is falling behind, The New York Times reports.

“China’s development has been very comprehensive in terms of politics, economics and military,” said Jiang Jingkui, director of the Southeast Asian Research Institute at Peking University. “But in terms of soft power, India has done better than China,” Mr. Jiang said. “Although India’s economy is not as developed, they have put a huge emphasis on promoting their culture, including things like Buddhist traditions and yoga.”

For much of the modern era, Chinese lost out in the battle for modernity, notes Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London, and an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, London. One of the great strategic moves of the Deng Xiaoping era from 1978 onwards was “the great learning”, as a consequence of which the average Chinese person in 2017 knows more about Europe, the United States, and the outside world than the average British, French or American does about China, generating an asymmetry in knowledge levels to China’s benefit, he writes for The Diplomat:

Believers in democracy, free speech, and the whole enlightenment agenda do have to stand by the foundation of these – respect for individual agency, free choice, and the power of objective knowledge. The more pressing problem for the moment we are in outside of China is that we are dealing with people….who have thought more extensively and more deeply about us than we have about them. There is a deficit – not in terms of trade, but knowledge. And the surplus is on China’s side.

“The only long term, sustainable solution to dealing with fears of Chinese state-led influence is to have people who are knowledgeable about who is trying to influence them, and able to answer back,” adds Brown, the author of The New Emperors. “In an odd way, if the Chinese are as extensively involved in these campaigns of subliminal influence as is claimed, that might be one way of achieving this.”

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