Countering Negative Perception
China has been conscious of the fact that it needs to change the negative perception towards it of the outside world. It is on the whole seen as an authoritarian regime under an autocratic President Xi whose power is enormous and unchallenged and to-day comparable to that enjoyed by the communist founding father Mao Zedong. China is also seen as a country completely throttling democratic values domestically particularly as seen by the Western world. China wants this perception to change and has been taking efforts towards the same .Thus,it cultivates political and economic elites in other countries who as a matter of self-interest or conviction speak in favour of China.
Some of the arguments put forward in favour of China is that their democracy is a little different from that of the Western world as they have to put in efforts to bring prosperity to the large number of poor people.
There is also what the author Hamilton calls as arguments based on 'whereaboutism',i.e., if China is imperfect in regard to liberal values,so many things are wrong about the Western world as well.
However, in the West there is effective oppostion and systemic checks and balances. Further constitution provides fundamental laws based on which the polity moves.There is economic freedom, and in the normal course trade is not linked to political objectives in the same way as is the case in China.The author argues that particularly after coming to power of Xi, China has become more totalitarian and violative of the present world order . Hence, the fond hope that certain sections in the western world had that with integration of economy with themselves , China would gradually change into an economic and political liberal society has not turned out to be true.Indeed the reverse has happened .
Therefore,if these countries do not wake up to the cynical exploitation of their economic and political system by China , they wiil find its emergence as the most poweful nation which does not believe in either a liberal society or a world order with the norms as it is understood and practised to-day.Indeed if China ends up ruling, it is very widely believed that the world order will become totalitarian,opaque and coercive!
The author states that another fear that China has is that it not only needs a positive image internationally so that other countries are forthcoming in its favour and to strike deals ,say,like BRI but the same is essential for its internal security and stability as well.
China is haunted by the fact that if the Chinese people develop a feeling that they are being unduly ruled by an authoritarian regime ,the present political dispensation there will lose legitimacy and may have to face resistance and riots as it happened in the case of Tiananmen Square - a blood- blot that China has been trying to wipe out with no success!No wonder it also wants to promote 'democracy with Chinese characteristics' to counter criticism but has achieved hardly any success .
China is haunted by USSR's experience that led to its dissolution in which the domestic populace played a damaging role rising in defiance believing totalitarianism to be prevalent there as also continuously criticised by the Western world.The world remembers 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' propounded by Mikhail Gorbachev and how the same brought about the undoing of the USSR as it existed.
To quote the author: China realises that "----Creating a favourable international public opinion environment is important for Chinese (internal)security and social stability".
Espionage has been a part of international politics and many countries indulge in it . We all have seen highly engrossing James Bond movies . However,author makes a distinction between the western espionage and that resorted to by the Chinese. To quote:"Western espionage steal secrets for military and strategic benefit . China'a espionage include personal lives,health status ,political affiliations ,sexual proclivitiesof Western leaders ,businessmen,university chiefs and opinion makers is used to build personal profiles and at times to coerce the targets."
Hence, when political parties of a country take donations or any other favour from China or pay friendly visits,they need to be circumspect as China always weaves any such activity into its political objective and finds out confidential details to exploit the target's vulnerabilities.
Targeting Educational System
China has been trying to influence the educational systems of the targeted countries. For that it tries to oblige the important academicians by offering jobs in their own universities,or arranging for various educational trips to China or funding research or entering into university-to - university relations. .One of the methods is the establishing of apparently harmless looking Confucius Institutes which first started in 2004 named after the revered philosopher Confucius .
Needless to add, like most other instances related to China ,these Institutes are supposed to subserve and further the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and act as its camouflaged propaganda machinery to influence the academicians and the young minds on the university campus. These Institutes in addition to imparting the normal teachings, are expected to keep an eye on the academic activities of the concerned universities,try to build a pro-China opinion and exploit financial or other vulnerabilities of these Institutions and people manning them to further pro-China narrative and subvert the opposition to it . Once they grow strong,they interfere in the activities of the universities when anything not favourable to them takes place.Relatively financially weaker universities are more susceptible to their pressure.
There has now been resistance in many universities to the interference by the Confucius Institutes and in several countries like France,America ,canada, Belgium , Sweden ,Australia and others . There have been instances of closures of this Institute and in some cases rules related to their operations have been made more restrictive inclusive of scope for exercising scrutiny .
To quote the author: "Here too the goal is to mute criticism of the Party ,export its censorship norms and promote research that boosts the 'Chinese path',the 'Chinese system' and 'Chinese theories'.---Interference by Confucius Institutes in academic freedom ,freedom of expression and other personal rights has been documented in a large number of countries."
In India, Confucius Institutes do exist but have not been able to spread to too many universities. Fearing their possible anti-India role , in the aftermath of Ladakh Stand-off , Indian government raised the issue of reviewing the role of such Institutes. Expectedly , as in the European counries, Chinese authorities in India were quick to raise objection to the same .
China Ends Up Acting As " Sharp Power" And Not "Soft Power"
Incidentally, the author perceptively observes that while China tries to exercise what it believes to be 'soft powers', it fails to realise that its behavour turns ugly when countered due to its deep-rooted totalitarian system and ethos which inherently lack democratic norm of handling based on debate and dissent or polite persuasion . It gets reflected in trenchant and threatening words also involving strong punishing actions deviating from traditional diplomatic niceties . To denote the aforesaid highly aggressive diplomatic style of 21st century , a new epithet used in the context of China is "Wolf warrior diplomacy", an expression taken from a Rambo -type Chinese aggressive film called Wolf Warrior 2 !
To quote the author :''Of course, an authoritarian power like China do not rely on 'soft power' but 'sharp power',the exercising of coercive and manipulative influence.Indeed this shows up in Chinese debates on the subject which are always more coerced with the power aspect than with the soft."
In The Aftermath Of The Book: World Sees Through Chinese Game Faster And Better
In the book the author had bemoaned the element of ignorance exhibited by the Western World and North America in seeing through the Chinese geostrategic purpose and countering it.However, the developments of last couple of years or so have shown that belatedly but almost with a start their governments have understood the situation and begun countering the same with a sense of urgency and added punch.Chinese flip-flop on Wuhan Virus has been an epiphany for the Western world. One may even hold that the gloves on both sides are off ! There are repeated acrimonious exchange of words. In the meantime China has grown in strength and influence whereby it feels emboldened to challenge America and others with impunity.
That is how we witness the trade war against China initiated by The United States during the tenure of President Donald Trump placing the former to much discomfiture.The strengthening of QUAD(Quadrilateral Security Dialogue)for a free and open Indo-Pacific and basically meant to counter the rising maritime strength of China in this region is another example.QUAD countries are India, Australia, America and Japan. They had their first virtual summit in March,2021.
To reduce dependence on China in regard to manufacturing,efforts are on to shift the same to other countries .The world has started speaking with greater unity against the human rights violation of Muslim Uyghurs . Xinjiang cotton was boycotted by European Union , Britain, Canada and America as the first multilateral sanctions against the forced labour of Uyghurs in this regard . China has politically reacted by boycotting brands like Nike and H&M .FDI rules have been tightened to restrict and monitor Chinese investments in several of these countries .Examples can be multiplied but the basic underscoring fact is that China's political strategems have begun to be unravelled, much better understood and acted against!
China had been trying for last three or four decades to spread its political and economic tentacles in India in a variety of outwardly palatable forms almost unabated and not sufficiently understood by the latter . In the wake of Wuhan Virus and subsequent Ladakh Stand-off, a series of steps have been taken by the Indian Government to counter China's not only economically but also strategically harmful influence .
Thus,FDI rules have been tightened by India to restrict and scrutinise Chinese investments. No border country (meant for China)can invest without the approval of the Government.E-Commerce companies are now required to mention the country of origin of their goods.The idea is to reduce Chinese import .There is a strong anti-China sentiment within India which can be exploited by the government. Indian government is regulating social media platform as the same poses security threats.India banned more than two hundred Chinese mobile Applications including the popular Tik-Tok considering them as prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of the nation.In China details related to individuals collected by them can whenever asked for will get shared with the government to be potentially used for inimical purposes.
Thus, the Western world and North America seem to have awakened now and have started responding to China as had been wished for by Clive Hamilton in his highly acclaimed and engaging present book .In it he treaded the largely untrodden path of highlighting the role of the 'hidden hand'of Chinese Communist Party in reshaping the world for dominance -something that the targeted countries had failed to perceive timely and grapple with effectively .This also holds lessons for India !
(View Expressed here is by Pradeep Kumar Sinha, a JNU alumnus)
(Pradeep Sinha can be contacted at email@example.com)