Thursday, February 14, 2008

China's soft power filling moral void

Posted by China Watcher

I totally agreed with his comments on the two-faced US foreign policies when it comes to supporting dictatorship and monarchy-led governments as against the country’s underlying beliefs on democratic principles and human rights values. Two obvious examples of these countries getting US’s moral and military support are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

As for China’s non interference stand, it is a universal culture in Asia (without the religious fervor) to respect your neighbors and the use of soft suasion skills to achieve the balance between not antagonizing the ruling governments and securing a safe and profitable commercial interest in that country.

Even the world’s largest democracy like India is adopting similar strategies of non interference when dealing with the junta-led government in Myammar when it intends to win huge commercial dealings in the country. But India was spared much criticism just because it is a democracy. Different standards, I presumed.

Enjoy the article below.

China's soft power filling moral void

By David B Roberts at the University of Durham, UK

On any given day, China announces various deals, exchanges, missions, activities, exhibitions, events, parties, celebrations and agreements between itself and any given country.

In recent weeks, Malta, Sierra Leone, Slovenia and Malawi have all been visited by a Chinese official in some capacity. What, you might be asking, do these countries have in common? The short answer is nothing. Obviously, they need investment and/or support in ventures, but that is hardly a distinguishing feature, after all, who doesn't? These countries are simply the latest recipients of attention by Beijing and its prodigious foreign policy making machines.

No country is too small or seemingly too insignificant for Beijing's attention in a concerted campaign to make friends and - more crucially - influence people. To this end, China has been making vast steps forward in expanding its soft power. This is a kind of power whereby - crudely put - the country or actor in question will do what China want them to do because they see their goals as being shared by China, they want to follow China's lead out of loyalty or a belief that it will be to their longer term benefit to do so. Soft power is conveyed in a myriad of ways.

It can be through an attentive ambassador including local business leaders in meetings or conferences, the exporting of a country's culture through music, theatre, films or technology, thereby theoretically creating a better understanding or empathy or it can be the education of diplomats in Beijing - getting them used to the ways of the Chinese and making contacts that they may well find useful at a later date. China have been pursuing just such polices specifically but not particularly in East Asia recently with considerable success.

The opposite of soft power is - unsurprisingly - hard power, which is coercion of one form or another: you don't follow China's lead because you want to, but because there are implicit or explicit military, economic or diplomatic threats. While the use of hard power can be effective, it is surely better to persuade and finesse countries towards your goals and ends, as opposed to being pressed into doing so, inviting resentment and general antipathy.

But what are these policies and why does China care if they have relations - good or bad - with Sierra Leone or Malta? Most of the time, China seeks resources of one kind or another. This is clearly the case in Sierra Leone where the Chinese have been harvesting timber for years. In the Maltese, for example, case it would be more accurate to say that the Chinese simply want - like all countries - good relations with all countries.

However, the Chinese also want one other thing which is utterly central to all of their politics and policies: international recognition and corroboration of the one China policy. Indeed, these sentiments of concordance are often specifically included in the Xinhua report of the meetings.

This is the crux of their soft power policies. In return for countries strict adherence to an avowed policy of sovereignty and non-interference in other states' affairs, China offer both unusual levels support even of smaller countries as well as, crucially, a reciprocated and fervent promise not to interfere in their policies. This policy can thus lead China to deal unusually closely with some of the world's more repressive regimes.

There are two distinct points of view to this. Firstly, from the other country's perspective, China offers its help without conditions. There are no human rights complications, no promises for elections, and no pressure for free press. Countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe appreciate China's unquestioning support in return for arms, oil, trade or whatever is on offer. These kinds of policies - unsurprisingly - draw considerable international criticism. The Chinese charge d'affairs in South Africa recently defended China's policies of engagement, trade and interactions with Sudan and Zimbabwe by saying that China was "simply protecting its own interests".

Others, notably those from the West, find China's foreign policy of interaction with pariah regimes anything from unfortunate to disgraceful. There is, strictly speaking, no right answer. While it is easy for the West to harangue China for these policies, they are not speaking from an unsullied pulpit either, both historically and presently speaking. Selling billions of dollars of arms to various countries in the Middle East, all of whom rate poorly to atrociously on the Freedom House index, does not lend the West the high ground.

Nevertheless, entering such a kind of Faustian bargain with Saudi Arabia is better than the alternative of non-interaction. Take the recent example of the multiple rape victim in Saudi Arabia who was herself going to be flogged as she was sitting in a car with an unrelated man. The opprobrium that this created in the West was translated into international pressure heaped on the Saudi government and can surely be credited with pressuring the Saudi King into pardoning the women. Would this have happened if China had been the major trade partner and the West not had any kind of sway? Obviously not.

What this goes to prove is that interaction is needed - but it must be the right sort of interaction. There is a fine line between exacerbating the problems inherent in the countries in question by trading with them, enriching and/or arming the elite, and simply ignoring them. Simply leaving the states as international pariahs will not work.

Into this morally created void will walk China, shoring up the regime with trade and reciprocal promises of non-interference. One can only hope that through interaction with the West and the exchange of Western soft power, grandiose notions such as democracy and human rights will filter down however slowly and become embedded to help guard against the seductive allure of a mechanical foreign policy of naked self interest.

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