Discover more from Discourse Power
China's "strategic neutrality" on Ukraine, speaking for the Global South, and changing the "West is strong and we are weak" equation
Discourse Power | August 11, 2023
Three recommendations before we begin:
Kenton Thibaut (@kentonthibaut), Resident China Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, released her final installment of the Discourse Power trilogy. She looks at the idea of "media convergence" and how it aids the Party in using three different strategies to influence foreign policy: channel expansion, content innovation, and governance of technological infrastructure and digital connectivity. Read it here.
Last week, I sat down with Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) and host of the Disinformation Wars podcast, to discuss Chinese discourse power. We talk about how China is undermining Western-American "discourse hegemony," hoping that a post-Western and post-liberal world will emerge from the ashes. Listen to it here.
Gregory B. Poling and Andreyka Natalegawa have released a new report for CSIS on American and Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. The study shows that China is still the region's main economic partner of choice even though the US has greater soft power appeal. Their distinction between the opinions of the elite and the general public is noteworthy (even though it is challenging to empirically separate the two groups):
Finally, let me extend a warm welcome to the new subscribers. To the old guard (“the OGs”), thank you for sticking around. If you find Discourse Power useful or stimulating, kindly take a minute to share it in your circles and on social media.
Thank you for reading,
“In the absence of a concrete peace proposal from China, the West has continued to attack its position in an attempt to maintain its public opinion dominance”
According to Ye Tianle, Assistant Researcher at MSS-linked China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the “peace talks” in Jeddah have presented China “with a golden opportunity to shape new international norms.”
Context: Over the weekend, on August 5, delegates from more than 40 countries attended a high-level conference convened at President Zelenskyy's request in the Saudi port city of Jeddah to discuss Ukraine's position on ending the war. Russia was conspicuously absent, whereas China attended through its special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui.
Excerpts from Xie’s article, published August 8, 2023:
"On August 5-6, 2023, Ambassador Li Hui, Chinese Government Special Representative on Eurasian Affairs, traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to attend an international conference on Ukraine.
"China participated in the conference and positively engaged in discussions with a number of countries, including the Ukrainian side, on nuclear safety, food security, and other issues, with the goal of promoting peace and facilitating negotiations 劝和促谈, fully communicating with all parties, and actively promoting peace.
"As Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated, China is willing to continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis." Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, called China's participation in the meeting a "historical breakthrough."
"According to the Financial Times, all parties present welcomed China's participation in the meeting, and the Chinese side expressed an interest in continuing to participate in the peace talks.
"The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is complex and difficult to resolve, and making substantive progress at a single meeting is not an easy task. China's participation in the meeting is a positive signal of its willingness to listen to all parties' views and proposals and to promote the formation of a consensus that will eventually lead to a political solution to the crisis.
"Against this backdrop, China faces a number of opportunities as well as challenges:
"First and foremost, the Ukraine crisis should be resolved through negotiations.
"Second, the international community's call for promoting peace and facilitating negotiations is growing stronger by the day.
"Third, promoting peace and facilitating negotiations presents China with a golden opportunity to shape new international norms. With the rise in power and wealth of Western colonialism and imperialism over the centuries, the international community has been transformed into a zero-sum game in which the law of the jungle rules and the strong prey on the weak, and the struggle for supremacy and hegemony has become the international norm.
"Carl von Clausewitz's notion that "war is simply a continuation of political intercourse" is widely accepted in the West. However, with the rise of independent Third World countries and emerging economies following World War II, peace and development have become the staple of our times, and the international norms dominated by the hegemony of the West are being challenged in unprecedented ways.
"Against this backdrop, Chinese initiatives such as the Community with a Shared Destiny for Mankind, the Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) have enormous room for expansion and fertile soil to grow.
"The desire of the vast majority of developing countries for a peaceful international environment in order to ensure their own development provides an excellent opportunity for China to lead the way in establishing new international norms 引领新国际规范提供了良好契机.
"First, the conflict's prolongation has made it more difficult for China to promote peace and facilitate negotiations. Since time immemorial, countries have had various types of relations, whether intimate and close, peaceful and amicable, or mutually hostile at daggers drawn 或亲密无间、或和平相处、或剑拔弩张、或兵戎相向.
"However, few cases in history have been as complex and intractable as that of Russia and Ukraine. The two sides have been feuding for hundreds of years, and the current conflict is the result of the West's ongoing "fanning of the flames" and pressure on Russia, as well as the eruption of long-standing contradictions 矛盾 between the two peoples.
“Fundamental disagreements exist between Russia and Ukraine on issues such as territorial boundaries, sea lanes, energy, and trade; meanwhile, the West has not stopped the flow of aid but continues to escalate the situation by providing weapons.
"When the Kakhovka Dam was bombed, the Ukrainian side actively retaliated, and both sides continue to target civilian infrastructure. It will take time for the international community, including the West, to accept China's position of strategic neutrality, emphasis on historical perspective, and call for calm dialogue.
"Secondly, finding simple answers to complex questions is difficult... The "procrastination-oriented" 以拖为主 policy of the West will not solve the problem. It is the driving force behind Russia's and Ukraine's refusal to budge on this peace proposal, as they are concerned that the "Minsk agreements" will resurface, jeopardizing their interests, and are uninterested in the peace talks.
"Third, the West has repeatedly condemned China's position. Since the conflict broke out, China has maintained its neutral stance, urging all parties to remain calm and actively promote a cease-fire. The US and the West, on the other hand, have been attempting to "lump" China and Russia in an "anti-Western" camp, as they have continued to slander China, claiming that it has supported Russia and provided it with military aid.
"On a global scale, it has rallied its allies to join other countries in targeting China's initiatives aimed at promoting peace and facilitating negotiations, falsely accusing it of attempting to defend Russia's "aggression" 侵略企图.
“The Washington Post falsely claimed in May, during the visit of Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui to Russia, that China had recognized Russian-occupied territories and was pressuring the Ukrainian side to make concessions.
“In the absence of a concrete peace proposal from China, the West has continued to attack its position in an attempt to maintain its public opinion dominance.
“While recognizing China's participation as "constructive," the Financial Times stated that "China's participation in itself is a sign of Russia's isolation."
"Disputes between countries and nations are never as simple as "you are right and I am wrong." The evolution of the Ukrainian crisis to the present stage is directly related to the natural defects in the European security pattern, the West's strategic expansion and hegemonic policies, and the outdated Cold War mentality that is still "lurking in the shadows" 阴魂不散.
"It is inherently contrary to the spirit of "freedom and equality" that some nations preach that China is allegedly escalating conflicts while making positive efforts for peace.
"Those who walk straight don't worry about a crooked shadow, and those who walk steadily won't be stirred up by the wind" 身正不怕影斜，行端不惧风狂. When the time is right, the international community will undoubtedly acknowledge China's adherence to the fairness principle in resolving the Ukrainian crisis.” (CICIR)
“In the midst of a new wave of changes in the global governance system, the voice and representation of the Global South should be expanded to protect our common interests”
Do you live in the Global South? If you answered yes, you'll be glad to know that the Party speaks for you.
During the BRICS High Representatives for Security Affairs meeting in Johannesburg on July 25th, reinstated Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who still heads the Party's top foreign policy organ, put forward a four-point proposal "to strengthen cooperation among countries of the "Global South" (excerpts):
“According to Wang Yi, the Global South's defining political underpinning is independence and autonomy 独立自主, its historical mission is development and revitalization 发展振兴, and its common cause is fairness and justice 公道正义.
“As members of the Global South family and responsible members of the global village, we join hands and shoulder our responsibility for world peace and common development.
“Fourth, we must be united as we consult with and work with one another. It is necessary to advocate for the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits 共商共建共享原则, oppose hegemony and power politics, and advocate for the United Nations to play a more active role in international affairs.
“In the midst of a new wave of changes in the global governance system, the voice and representation of the Global South should be expanded to protect our common interests.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
From the Archives
“Our emphasis on the ‘fight over international discourse power’ means, by definition, taking the opportunity to speak out from the hands of others. This is especially true in areas where the West has control and discriminates against us”
Professor He Jianhua, then-vice president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), wonders how China can change the international public opinion arena in which the "West is strong and China is weak."
Prof. He is still affiliated with SASS but currently serves as a part-time professor at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong, Shanghai. In addition, he is a senior researcher at the Shanghai Culture Research Center and a member of the Shanghai Writers Association.
The following is the full translation of He's article, which was first published in the People's Liberation Army Daily and was republished in Xinhua News Agency on February 15, 2017:
“The current state of international public opinion is still defined as "the West is strong and China ["we"] is weak" 西强我弱. China frequently finds itself in the position of being unable to speak our truth or communicate what we believe. There is little positive talk, and the negative aspects are overemphasized. The reasons for this situation and the recurrence of these problems are primarily due to the following:
“The discrepancy of Western media’s [depictions of China] originates from the fact that our image is shaped by others 他塑. In their coverage of China, the Western media often adopt positions and viewpoints based on Cold War mentality and "politically correct" ideology. Their communication strategy is driven by their emphasis on agenda-setting techniques and tricks, and finding ways to expose scandals.
“Objectively speaking, China's image in the world is to a large extent "shaped by others" rather than "shaped by ourselves" 自塑. The public in the West cannot comprehend the "real China" as a result of the disparity between the subjective perception of the West and the actual image of China.
"We have failed to make our voices heard on a global scale. This manifests itself primarily in four ways:
“First, we don't want to speak 一是不想说. Even when the audience is present, we are mostly silent, rarely speaking, let alone actively participating in the conversation.
"Secondly, we are afraid to speak up 二是不敢说. Without a script with instructions, we won't dare to speak. Furthermore, we are hesitant to participate in debates for fear of saying the wrong thing.
"Third, we are unable to speak 三是不会说. Our speech pattern is archaic, full of meaningless political jargon 官话 and empty platitudes. No wonder we can't tell the China Story well.
“Fourth, weak language skills prevent us from clearly expressing our intentions, making it even more difficult for us to participate in the conversation.
"Our academic discourse is out of step 接轨不够.with the rest of the world. There is a current trend in Chinese academic circles in which some scholars follow in the footsteps of Western academics and conduct interpretive and exegetical research, putting in significant effort to prove that foreigners' theories are correct. Following the herd 人云亦云 and passing other people’s opinions as your own 拾人牙慧 rarely earns real respect.
"It's now international standard practice for think-tank experts to participate in discussions, make their voices heard, elaborate on their views, and lobby on the occasions of various international conferences and forums. This is true for discussions on global development trends, important issues affecting humanity, and other hot spots of public opinion in the world. Yet, Chinese think tanks' participation, activeness, and discourse power are clearly insufficient in this regard. They are not yet able to present ideas and concepts that are global in nature, forward-looking, and distinctive.
"How can China's international discourse power be strengthened and enhanced further?" Some of the pertinent policies are as follows:
“First, China should make full use of its "international right to speak" 发言权. Taking the United Nations economic and development agenda as an example, in addition to the formal diplomatic negotiations in which Chinese representatives have participated, there has been very little Chinese participation in a large number of other international conferences and seminars. Developing countries such as India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico, on the other hand, are much more active.
“Our emphasis on the ‘fight over international discourse power’ means, by definition, taking the opportunity to speak out from the hands of others. This is especially true in areas where the West has control and discriminates against us. This begs the question, though: are we making use of the opportunities already available to speak out globally?
“Second, we must identify the best entry points 切入点 and focus our efforts on the true focal points 着力点. For example, work at the UN can be divided into three major topics:
“War and peace - As a permanent member of the Security Council, China has the right to speak as well as a veto right on major issues concerning war and peace.
“Human rights - There is an urgent need to start a protracted fight for the right to speak out on issues concerning human rights because Western nations, the media, and China's opponents to speaking out are all deeply biased.
“Development - This is the most important entry point and focal point for rapidly increasing China's international influence. This is because there is little political opposition to China in this area, our friends are numerous, and our accomplishments have been fruitful, allowing us to quickly make an impact.
"Third, we must address the deficiencies in human capacity-building. Having representatives present at meetings is far from sufficient on the international stage; China desperately needs talent that can speak for the country.
“It is advised to select a cohort of talents with strong international communication skills, good foreign language skills, and familiarity with their own fields of work to fully participate in international conferences and discussions.
“This would allow us to quickly develop a sizeable advantage in international discourse in critical areas. Simultaneously, emphasis should be placed on developing a young generation of people who are fluent in the modes of communication used in international discourse.
"Fourth, we should seize major international issues to make our voices heard. Finding issues that affect everyone is necessary to increase the influence of international discourse by giving them resonance and impact. If we only discuss our own "specialties," others may not understand or be interested in what we have to say, and obviously, we won't be able to have much of an impact.
“Among other things, Chinese scholars and social scientists should be adept at identifying major hotspots that affect the future of human development and are of general concern to the international community. They should conduct macro-level research on issues of consciousness, embodying China's position, representing China's wisdom, and contributing Chinese solutions.
"Finally, we should strengthen social communication and establish a Chinese "think tank public opinion arena" 智库舆论场. Chinese think tanks typically only offer advice to decision-makers through internal channels, but they seem to shut down, turn conservative, and dormant in the face of significant issues with social development, unexpected major events, and a complex public opinion environment.
“In broad terms, only about 30% of international think tanks' work is confidential research that serves specific target groups, while the rest of their content is targeted at the general public. Therefore, while serving the Party and the government, Chinese think tanks should also be encouraged to participate more in public debates, raise public awareness, and promote social progress." (PLA Daily) h/t Kenton Thibaut’s Discourse Power report on the digital domain.
Playing in the Background
Discourse Power is written by Tuvia Gering, a researcher at the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation Israel-China Policy Center at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, and a Tikvah Fund’s Krauthammer Fellow. Any views expressed in this newsletter, as well as any errors, are solely those of the author. Follow Tuvia on Twitter @GeringTuvia