An Amedia report said that over the past six months, the Chinese state newspaper, China Daily, has spent millions of dollars trying to gain media influence in the West. According to the contributions, Time magazine, the Financial Times, foreign policy and the Los Angeles Times were among the main recipients of Chinese funds. In India, there are Chinese supporters, perhaps on their payroll, whose writings defend Beijing’s views.
China is struggling to improve its global image, even if it means buying positive media coverage. During the CCP centenary celebrations, Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to project an image of power and determination.
He said during his speech: Anyone who attempts to do so (intimidate, oppress or enslave) will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese. This may have been intended to impress his domestic audience; However, across the world, China is the target, with countries questioning its behavior and crossing its red lines.
Addressing the World Summit of Political Parties last week, Xi called on political parties around the world to oppose the politicization of the Covid pandemic or the geographic tagging of the virus. His statement comes after demands for an investigation into the origins of the virus intensified. China remains the nation blamed for intentionally disclosing the virus. Requests for the probe have risen sharply after Chinese Wolf Warrior diplomats tried to suggest the virus originated in other countries.
President Xi, realizing the global damage his wolf warrior diplomacy was causing, said: There is a need to make friends, unite and gain the majority, and constantly expand the circle of friends (in with regard to) international public opinion. These words were too few and too late. The Chinese image has taken a hit and it is unlikely to recover soon. Its offensive and intimidating tactics reinforce negativity about China. As its few allies and indebted states remain silent, their views are also shifting.
The bloody China Belt Road Initiative has begun to take control of vital national assets in return for non-payment of contributions. China’s image is that of a country grabbing iconic assets, degrading and humiliating economically weaker indebted nations. As governments may be forced to part with their assets as an alternative to repayment, China’s image of a leech is growing. In Myanmar, Chinese factories are set on fire, while in Africa, Chinese citizens rarely venture out, fearing local anger and retaliation.
In Pakistan, Chinese companies mention the relocation of their offices outside the country, fearing that their image will increase insecurity and invite terrorist attacks. The level of mistrust towards China has increased as the United States, among others, has reduced the issuance of study visas to Chinese students. Those who are currently studying are under investigation, and if they have any ties to the PLA or the CCP, they are expelled. The belief that is gaining ground is that Chinese students are spies, sent to acquire technical knowledge, and therefore should not be allowed into critical areas of research.
Demands for a global investigation into the Xinjiang genocide allegations are gaining ground, although China insists it is an internal matter. Aside from countries financially indebted to China, most others have condemned its human rights record. The EU, which has almost signed the century’s trade deal with China, has backed down amid a diplomatic row over Xinjiang. Despite the pressures, nations cross China’s red lines at will.
China’s offensive approach against its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea (SCS) has drawn European nations into the fray. Germany, France and soon the United Kingdom will participate, alongside the QUAD, in freedom of navigation operations in the SCS. The EU, which was leaning towards China, has returned to the American fold. Beijing’s offensive intentions in the region have brought India and the United States closer together, adding to Chinese security concerns.
The QUAD is gaining momentum, despite criticism from China. India, which until recently refused to be drawn into the SCS dispute because it sought to maintain the Mahabalipuram spirit, now advocates an open Indo-Pacific. This fear has forced China to threaten regional nations like Bangladesh to support QUAD. China’s loss of power became evident when India, which sought to avoid diplomatic clashes, changed its tone.
Indian leaders have ignored the centenary of the Chinese CCP, because also for the first time in decades, an Indian prime minister publicly wished the Dalai Lama his birthday. It showed Indian intentions not to normalize ties with China amid the unresolved border crisis, and in case China escalates militarily, India is ready. Global support for the issue of Tibetan succession is increasing. This is an open challenge to China, which has repeatedly stated that it alone has the power to appoint the next Dalai Lama.
In the future, this subject would pit China against others. Indian support on either side would be essential as the Tibetan government in exile resides here. China has sought to present its autocratic one-party regime as an alternative to democracy. He intended to project democratic nations as incapable of responding to the aspirations of their citizens. He tried to exploit his spectacular economic and military growth to highlight the success of the one-party regime. It collapsed as China’s refusal to adhere to global standards and its intimidation of weaker neighbors damaged its image.
The West has successfully used cognitive warfare, severely undermining any positive prospects China tried to project. The Western perception remains that China is a global outcast. China has partially protected its people from outside influences by banning global social media at home; however, its citizens abroad are influenced and reality reaches home.
Chinese spokespersons are spending more time defending the charges and accusing other nations of bias. While China continues to falsely portray a picture of bravado and careless of world views, the realities are different. China, which should have dominated global decision-making, finds itself increasingly isolated, forced to consolidate its image. It is for this reason that China is compelled to buy goodwill and positive reviews in world newspapers. It is perhaps the only country that buys respect rather than deserving it.
(The writer is a retired Indian Army Major-General)
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