Jul 30, 2007

China - So Soft, So Cuddly

[I]f China at home is like America during the Industrial Revolution - struggling to develop rules for its chaotic factories - China abroad resembles the US of that time, too: a far more influential nation than other existing powers (19th century Britain, or today's United States) care to admit.

Beijing has launched a soft power offensive, which focuses on public diplomacy and cultural outreach. It will build some 100 Confucius Institutes, Chinese language schools at leading local universities from Melbourne to Nairobi, and it has begun offering large scholarships for students from developing nations to come to China for university. It has created a new breed of diplomats, retiring older, more ideological envoys and replacing them with younger English speakers willing to interact with local media, like in Thailand, where the Chinese ambassador frequently appears on Thai talk shows.

China then backs up this on-the-ground diplomacy with frequent visits by top officials. Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao have been visiting Africa nearly every year - in sharp contrast to most American cabinet officials.

Chinese officials are skilfully playing the trade game. In Asia, it has taken the lead on trade negotiations from Japan, pushing through a free trade agreement with ten Southeast Asian nations even as both Tokyo and Washington struggle to hammer out trade deals in Asia. In Africa, it has become the continent's third-largest trading partner, its massive demand for commodities has revived African economies like Zambia, and it has created a state investment fund that might plow some $200bn into companies in other nations. In Latin America, the traditional backyard of the United States, China has signed a free trade deal with Chile and launched a strategic economic partnership with regional giant Brazil.

Some of these efforts are paying off. In a recent study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, most people polled in Africa and Latin America said that China had a more positive impact on their nation than the United States.

Even in Australia, a longtime US ally, a study by the Lowy Institute showed nearly 70% of Australians viewed China positively; only half the Australians polled had positive feelings about the United States.
-Jacked & Hacked Joshua Kurlantzick

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