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Beijing Offers New Model For Superpower Public Relations

How is it that China is spared the kind of international criticism that has flayed the Bush administration since the buildup to the Iraq war? The United States, by comparison with any other great power in history, is unusually law-abiding, respectful of the rights of others and open to criticism. And yet it is consistently portrayed as a callous and selfish bully. China, by contrast, seems to get waiver after waiver in the court of world opinion.
by Martin Walker
UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington (UPI) June 11, 2007
It may simply be that President George W. Bush makes a perfect villain. But the way in which so much of the world's media, so many of its politicians of all nations and so many protesters in so many countries all combine to vilify the American president is truly remarkable, once the alternatives are considered.

If Bush is the bad boy of global warming, despite his latest rhetorical acceptance of the need for a new international agreement after the Kyoto protocol, what of China, opening two massive coal-fired power stations a week? And how responsible is China when its response to the drying up of its own Yellow River is to divert water from the Mekong, ignoring the desperate complaints of Laos and Cambodia, who depend on its waters for survival?

If Bush is the bad boy of Western greed and selfishness, then what of his doubling the budget for HIV/AIDS in Africa from $15 billion to $30 billion?

If Bush is the bad boy of human rights, despite the way his military courts are rejecting cases brought against Guantanamo inmates, then what of China's censorship of the press and Internet, its control of religious freedoms, its colonization of Tibet, its imprisonment of dissidents and its labor camps?

And what of the gruesome evidence presented last month at the Human Rights and Medicine Forum at the University of Chicago that prisoners in China are being used as living organ donors for wealthy foreigners? One customer, offered a shopping list of available kidney donors until she found one with her perfect tissue type match, said "it was just like picking your lobster in a restaurant."

How is it that China is spared the kind of international criticism that has flayed the Bush administration since the buildup to the Iraq war? The United States, by comparison with any other great power in history, is unusually law-abiding, respectful of the rights of others and open to criticism. And yet it is consistently portrayed as a callous and selfish bully. China, by contrast, seems to get waiver after waiver in the court of world opinion.

Joshua Kurlantzick of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has an intriguing explanation for this in his new book, "Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World," (Yale University Press, $26). He says that China gets away with it because China as a matter of deliberate and consistent state policy works hard at its public diplomacy, at winning friends and buying support and influence.

"In Australia, traditionally a close U.S. ally suspicious of Beijing, barely half of citizens polled in 2005 had positive feelings about the United States while 70 percent felt positively about China," he notes.

"A BBC poll of average people in 22 nations found that nearly all believe that China plays a more positive role in the world than the United States. Thailand is formally a U.S. ally, but more than 70 percent of Thais now consider China to be Thailand's closest friend."

Kurlantzick describes how this deliberate policy of making China into a global Mr. Nice Guy was planned in the 1980s and carefully conducted thereafter.

It started with the recruitment of a high-quality and multilingual diplomatic service, which is still growing fast. In a 2005 survey fully one-half of China's 4,000 diplomats were under the age of 35.

They are backed up with a network of China-based think tanks dedicated to the in-depth study of different parts of the world and a sophisticated approach to training that goes way beyond simply language skills, sending its students to good overseas graduate schools so they make friends and contacts as well as learn to speak and write like natives. Kurlantzick cites one Mexican university that has 135 Chinese graduate students, all bound for the diplomatic service.

Then China's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation selected some 50 companies to take the lead in overseas investment and gave them a package of low-interest loans, diplomatic support, language training and interpreters, insurance guarantees, legal advice and the right to take Chinese engineers and workers abroad on contracts. It was a form of one-stop shopping for companies wanting to develop their foreign trade.

Then they turned their attention to the media, expanding and upgrading the Xinhua official news agency, publishing overseas editions of the People's Daily newspaper, establishing a modern briefing service with regular news conferences in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a thorough overhaul of the international service of CCTV state television. They hired English and Spanish anchors and Western set designers to make the channel look similar to CNN and the BBC.

All these new tools had some interesting stories to sell. The first was "heping jueqi," which means "peaceful rise," and seeks to define China's economic growth and growing global profile as a harmless and peace-loving process. The second was that China was becoming an important door to development aid.

Chinese President Hu Jintao went on a tour of Latin America and announced that China had $100 billion ready to grant and loan and invest in the continent. Last month the African Development Bank was invited to hold its annual board meeting in Shanghai, where China announced a new $10 billion development fund for the continent.

The overall message was that China was a different kind of economic superpower, seeking to help and work with developing countries rather than to exploit them like the capitalist imperialists.

This also meant carefully refraining from interfering in their internal affairs by nagging developing countries to observe human rights and hold free elections. And there will be no Western-style arms embargos. If unpleasant countries like Zimbabwe or Sudan want weapons, China will happily sell them.

As a result, China has been able to promote its "Beijing Model" of state-directed economic growth without political freedoms or a troublesome free press or an independent judiciary. The job has been made easier by the unpopularity of the Bush administration, which has presided over some of the most incompetent public diplomacy that the image of the United States has ever suffered. Indeed, the actions of the Bush administration have been an object lesson for China in what not to do.

Source: United Press International

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