Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Beijing’s charm offensive [Straits Times]

Indeed, China seems to have not put a foot wrong this year in terms of its public image and political dealings. Playing up the world’s most important bilateral relationship that is the US and China, using its economic strength to leverage on good feelings, and channeling soft power in its diplomacy such as its classic panda diplomacy move.

‘While Beijing’s previous diplomatic efforts appeared to be directed at less developed countries, this year it has turned its attention to its strongest critics – Europe and the US. And it seems to have aced the scorecards by dangling coveted economic deals and displaying unusual candour.’

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Beijing’s charm offensive
Source – Straits Times, published February 14, 2011

Images promoting China were shown on the big screens at Times Square in New York during President Hu Jintao's visit to the US last month. The video is on until today. -- PHOTO: XINHUA

First, China has displayed uncharacteristic openness on Sino-US relations. Mr Hu, who has rarely granted interviews to US newspapers, spoke openly to reporters, and emphasised that China and the US should ‘enhance strategic mutual trust’ and abandon the zero-sum ‘Cold War mentality’. While he cryptically described the current international currency system as ‘the product of the past’, he also said it will be ‘a fairly long process’ before the yuan could possibly become an international reserve currency.

Second, China has strategically used its greatest trump card – the economy – to win positive sentiments in Europe and the US. Mr Li publicly pledged confidence in the Spanish financial market and offered to continue buying Spanish debt. During his visits, China signed US$7.5 billion (S$9.6 billion) in trade deals in Spain, £2.6 billion (S$5.3 billion) in trade deals in Britain (which will double annual bilateral trade by 2015), and US$11.3 billion in Germany.

China also reaffirmed that Beijing would support the European Union in sorting out its sovereign debt crisis. The strategy appeared to work, with the European leaders tactfully sidestepping the thorny issue of human rights despite public pressure.

Third, China is increasingly channelling soft power in its diplomacy. Mr Hu’s US visit included a well-planned publicity blitz on China in Times Square in New York. During Mr Li’s visit, China overtly pandered to the European emphasis on the environment, expressed its strong interest in acquiring green tech-nology, and signed a major green energy deal worth US$10 million with Scotland. China’s decision to send two giant pandas to Scotland also earned widespread positive media coverage in Britain.

While Beijing’s previous diplomatic efforts appeared to be directed at less developed countries, this year it has turned its attention to its strongest critics – Europe and the US. And it seems to have aced the scorecards by dangling coveted economic deals and displaying unusual candour. Receiving a warm welcome in Washington, China released a joint statement with the US where they reaffirmed the commitment to build ‘a positive, cooperative and comprehensive US-China relationship for the 21st century, which serves the interests of the American and Chinese peoples and of the global community’, recognising that the relationship between the two countries is both ‘vital and complex’.

Mr Hu’s successful visit reflected the eagerness of both countries to improve relations. Most notably, China and the US remained focused on strengthening ties during the visit, and steered clear of controversies generated by the US spy satellite launch and test flights of China’s J-20 stealth jet.

China is the largest trading partner of Japan, Australia, Asean, Brazil, South Korea, India, Iran, Germany and the African continent, and the second largest trading partner of the US, the EU, Russia and Canada. It now has an extensive and complex network of political and economic relationships that spans continents and includes staunch democracies and rogue states alike.

China appears to realise it has reached a critical stage of development where its allegiances with less developed countries cannot come at the expense of relationships with developed ones, and that its continued economic ascent hinges on its ability to artfully manage its role as a less developed country that plays in the top league of nations because of its size and unprecedented rate of economic growth.

Over the past decade, it is increasingly apparent that China’s foreign policy is more strategic and coherent than it is generally perceived, and China has been systematically building its spheres of in-fluence and cultivating strategic inter-dependence across the globe.

The new leadership of 2012 will take over a China that faces both unprecedented opportunities but also mounting apprehensions over its growing power. If the auspicious start to the year is anything to go by, China’s efforts to engage its detractors in the West seem to be taking off in the right direction.

The writer is a PhD student at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University, Shanghai. She does research on China’s strategy in multi-party negotiations.


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Foreign aid, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Straits Times, Strategy

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