Discourse Power | September 8 2022
Shout it out loud, filling the vacuum, the Siren's song, and it takes two to tango
Greetings from Tel Aviv,
Before we get started, my senior colleague Assaf Orion, the director of the Israel-China Policy Center at the INSS, with a deep dive into the Sino-Israeli bilateral relations in light of US pressures and the loud Cassandras urging Jerusalem to sever ties with Beijing.
Following on from my essay on China identifying itself as a "civilization nation," David Ownby from Reading the China Dream has a new translation of a piece by Fudan University philosophy professor Bai Tongdong titled "The Margins of Civilization—Reflections on the Historical Position of Chinese Civilization and the Progress of Human Civilization." In it, the author questions whether Chinese civilization is "exceptional" or "uniquely continuous."
Discourse Power will be taking a break next week due to less important prior obligations.
Thank you for reading,
“We must fight and win every battle in the struggle for public opinion and guard every inch of ideological territory”
In advance of the 20th Party Congress in mid-October, where Xi Jinping is likely to be re-elected for a third term, Mr. Fu Hua, editor-in-chief and party secretary of Xinhua News Agency, wants to crank the “volume of China” up to eleven.
“Xinhua News Agency has been carefully studying General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important Thought 思想 on [turning China into an] Internet Power 网络强国 and putting it into practice by.
“We have been steadily improving the visibility, impact, influence, and credibility of our news reporting in the mobile Internet era. Spreading positive energy 正能量 has always been our mission, seizing control [over the narrative?] - our guiding principle, and serving others - our specialty 正能量是总要求，管得住是硬道理，用得好是真本事.
“We have worked to build a brand-new, world-class multimedia organization that can actively seize control over the online public opinion front by upholding integrity and innovation while accelerating our integrated development 融合发展.
“We have improved our ability to fulfill our responsibilities as the Party Central Committee's throat and tongue [喉舌=mouthpiece], eyes, ears, and brain [智库=think tank], and we have done a better job of advancing the goal of hoisting our banner higher.
“We have accomplished our purpose and mission by winning the hearts of the people, cultivating the New Man 育新人, reinvigorating our culture, and projecting our image [to the world].
“Always keep the core in mind, protect the core, popularise 宣传 the core, and shout positive energy out loud 唱响正能量最强音 [the core is Xi]
“Never, not even for a minute 一分钟都不, step outside the party line; never, not even for a minute, deviate from the direction General Secretary Xi Jinping is leading us; and never, not even for a minute, leave the sight of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the Party Central Committee.
“The extraordinary journey and glorious achievements made by the Party Central Committee since the 18th Party Congress, with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, uniting and leading the people of all ethnic groups across the country, are the most uniting force and morale-boosting positive energy in China today.
“The greatest political merit and primary political task of Xinhua News Agency is to do a good job of propagating General Secretary Xi Jinping and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.
“Xinhua News Agency will always prioritize the core, integrating its online and offline work, domestic and international, news reporting, and think tank research. It will disseminate General Secretary Xi Jinping's holistic view of the governance of state affairs, and publicize the profound affection of the people's leader who loves the people and is loved by the people.
“It is the calling of our era for the mainstream media to effectively control the front lines of ideological security online; we must fight and win every battle in the struggle for public opinion and guard every inch of ideological territory.
“The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is currently on an irreversible historical course. There is an urgent need to unite our thoughts, rally our forces, and develop a socialist ideology with a strong cohesive force and the power to lead.
“At the same time, the world is experiencing unprecedented changes unseen in a century, as the US and the West's containment and suppression of us escalate by the minute; their assaults on public opinion know no rest 一刻未停, their ideological struggle intensifies, with the Internet becoming the primary battlefield of public opinion struggle.
“Faced with a complex international public opinion environment, Xinhua News Agency has taken an important first step to improve its international communication capability by strengthening its overseas social media accounts.
“We promptly clarify and retort to attacks and smears involving our core interests; "like pearls, big and small, falling on a platter of jade" 大珠小珠落玉盘, we have been able to turn up the "volume of China" in the international public opinion arena.
“Xinhua News Agency should be anchored in the Two Overall Situations [the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the great changes unseen in a century] and remember the Great One of the Nation [国之大者, i.e., Make China Great Again].
“We will continue to take on responsibility for online ideological work and improve our ability to guide public opinion and struggle for it, so that we can live up to [Xi's decree] to protect our land responsibly, conscientiously, and to the best of our abilities 守土有责、守土负责、守土尽责.
“Accelerate the development of the Chinese discourse and narrative systems. Create new concepts, dimensions, and expressions that merge between the Chinese and the foreign.
“Focus on the facts, be logical, speak justice, and vividly declare China's position, Chinese wisdom and Chinese solutions, so as to promote a credible 可信, lovable 可爱, and respectable 可敬 image of China.
"At the same time, as we seize the initiative on the ideological front, we must maintain the spirit of struggle, fortify our capacity for struggle, dare to draw our blades 敢于亮剑, and bravely cross swords 勇于交锋 [with the enemy].” (China Cyberspace)
“In the long run, China may be able to work with Middle East countries on security issues and even become a major provider of security-related public goods”
Former diplomat and expert on Sino-Russian relations, Professor Yang Cheng, maintains that "as China's involvement in the Middle East grows, it must learn from the lessons of the US and Russia."
Yang teaches at the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).
“I believe that concentrating only on the US and Russia may be somewhat lacking. [For instance,] the EU has a variety of interests in the Middle East and has contributed significantly to ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and Arab-Israeli peace. China, too, has an active role in Middle Eastern affairs.
“Despite their varying areas of focus, the statements of the three spokespersons [of the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs] have shared this general perception of US influence in the Middle East: it is an undeniable fact that the US remains the most powerful extraterritorial power in the Middle East. This is especially true in the military and security spheres, even if its relative influence is declining.
“Therefore, even if we take the most extreme scenario—that the US was to completely withdraw from the Middle East at this time due to the strategic need to concentrate on China—the fact remains that no one nation can completely replace the US role and influence in the region.
“This begs an important question: if the preceding argument is taken as a given when discussing China's policy options, should - perhaps, could - China provide more public goods to the region and become a more active participant capable of playing a more dominant role?
“From conversations in domestic academic and public opinion circles, it appears that the mainstream view supports greater involvement in Middle Eastern affairs.
“However, security cooperation should not be hurried and instead should keep pace with the time and our momentum. With every day that passes, China moves closer to the world's center stage 日益走近世界舞台中央;
“The key to having "small wins add up to a big victory" 积小胜为大胜 [a Xi quote of Mao] under the protracted and all-encompassing new normal of Sino-US competition is not only to implement more proactive 进取 strategic initiatives; making fewer mistakes in comparison should also be a key metric.
“In the long run, China may be able to work with Middle East countries on security issues and even become a major provider of security-related public goods.
“In this case, however, we should avoid America's strategic blunders. That is, rather than fully accepting the subjectivity of the Middle Eastern countries, they are simply viewed as pawns in the great power competition.
“The Middle East's "geopolitical tragedy 悲剧 of great powers" is about to turn into a "comedy 喜剧 for small and medium-sized states." In other words, given the great power competition among extraterritorial actors, regional countries are hedging their bets 多面下注 in order to maximize their own interests. This trend implies that China's desire to increase its regional presence and influence will be significantly more costly than in the past.
“In the past, my esteemed colleague Niu Xinchun would use the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to highlight the serious shortcomings of China's Middle East studies in terms of our intellectual output 知识生产. Ten years on, we must now ask ourselves whether these glaring flaws have been addressed.
“In large part, the quality of our intellectual output directly affects how well-rounded our strategic judgments are. And the closer we get to the world's center stage, the more objective, reliable, and solid global knowledge that is country- and area-specific is required. In this regard, we still have a long way to go 长路依然漫漫.” (ESSRA)
"The depth and scope of China's strategic cooperation with Middle Eastern nations will be determined by how well it is able to provide them with tailor-made security solutions as a form of public goods"
Professor Wang Lincong, deputy director-general of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, believes that the increased strategic autonomy of Middle Eastern countries is a good opportunity to deepen China's relations with the region.
"The Middle East is currently still going through a lengthy period of transition. On the one hand, the ability of regional powers to reshape it has increased, and the multi-polarization trend in the region has accelerated.
“Additionally, it is important to pay attention to the ebb and flow of influence of the major powers in the region and how they are each promoting mini- and multilateral frameworks for cooperation.
“On the other hand, the Middle East is still struggling to shake off the influence of such extraterritorial powers. The competition between the global powers will continue to have a significant impact on and shape the order and pattern of the region.
"While the trend toward improved relations between Middle Eastern nations is fairly evident, it is still unclear whether the region will be able to maintain this momentum.
“In particular, the internal problems of the Middle East, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the plight of war-torn nations that have plagued the region for a long time, have not been fundamentally resolved.
"China faces both opportunities and challenges as a result of the changes in the landscape. China has a good opportunity to strengthen its ties with Middle Eastern nations given their growing strategic autonomy.
“The evolution of China's relations with Middle Eastern nations is, however, made uncertain by the escalation of great power competition and confrontation. They are especially becoming more worried about their own security interests and how security affects their development.
"In the future, our cooperation with Middle Eastern nations should not only aim to share development concepts and advance one another's development agendas but also to foster security cooperation and effectively address the region's security concerns.
“The depth and scope of China's strategic cooperation with Middle Eastern nations will be determined by how well it is able to provide them with tailor-made security solutions as a form of public goods." (ESSRA)
"Gorbachev's admiration for and imitation of Western democracy was a political fairy tale pursuit. The fall of the USSR was a national tragedy and a decisive setback for the international communist movement"
The passing of the Soviet leader, according to Professor Tian Feilong of the prestigious Beihang University in Beijing, is a stark reminder that the Cold War is "far from over."
"When Gorbachev was at the helm of the Soviet ship, caught in a violent storm, the Siren's song he heard from the fierce waves was Western democracy. Bewitched, his mind went into a spin 心智迷乱, and he hit a reef and perished 触礁而陨.
"Since a new era is upon us, it is crucial to carefully investigate and evaluate Mikhail Gorbachev's legacy and the history of the Soviet Union. In the same way that he shouldn't be regarded as a "saint" like he is in the West, his life shouldn't be seen as a historical lie.
"Instead, it is an objective topic that is related to the development of the international system and the history of the socialist movement. The Cold War is far from over because Western hegemony, the root cause of the Cold War, has not ceased.
"The battle against hegemony on the path to global justice rages on. The pursuit of democracy and our interpretation of it is, too, an ongoing endeavor. Real democracy is for the benefit of the populace and all of humanity; it is neither an oligarchy's tool nor a means of hegemony [italics added].
“The goal of China and all of humanity is to put an end to the Cold War, achieve lasting peace, advance democracy, and attain good governance." (Ming Pao)
“Overall, US influence in the Middle East is declining, but even so, there’s still more where that came from. The real question is how much power it retains in comparison to other countries”
Professor Niu Xinchun, director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), asks whether Beijing should bask in its "comfy" position as a friend to all in the Middle East, or whether it is time to step up its political and security game.
CICIR is a leading think tank in Beijing affiliated with China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) and overseen by the Party's Central Committee.
“Prior to the Russian-Ukrainian War, the Middle East was losing its significance in America’s global strategy. The US has four major strategic interests in the Middle East: one is energy, another is protecting its allies, the third is counter-terrorism, and the fourth is major power competition. The importance of these four factors has decreased over the last ten years.
“However, following the onslaught of the war, two new developments have emerged. One is that Middle Eastern energy suddenly has more importance due to the drop in Russian energy exports - although this leads to another question, whether its increase in significance is a long- or short-term phenomenon…[The answer is that] we don't know.
“Second, the interaction between major powers impacts the Middle East’s importance is the US global strategy. There had been no apparent great power competition in the Middle East prior to the war. Now, however, the US increasingly lump China and Russia together under the same camp; in the Middle East, their camp is joined by Iran.
“During his visit to the region, Biden has referred three times to its purpose: dealing with China, Russia, and Iran. Nevertheless, even when viewed through this prism of great power competition, is it really America’s desired course of action, or simply empty rhetoric?
“Indeed, it takes two to tango 一个巴掌拍不响 ("you can't clap with one hand"); even if the US wanted to turn the Middle East into a great power competition arena, China and Russia would not play along.
“At the very least, neither China nor Russia are taking the initiative to engage in a great power rivalry with the US in the region. And after all is said and done, will China and Russia eventually join hands? I don't think we can tell at this point.
“Although US influence in the Middle East is currently waning, no other major power is expected to step in and challenge American dominance in the near future. Right now, the United States has 60,000 troops permanently stationed in the Middle East, and when you factor in US defense contractors, estimated in the 100,000 range, then, who do you think would want to challenge that [kind of power]?
“Currently, we have 800 Chinese soldiers stationed in the Middle East who are not even fighters but engineers. Additionally, US foreign aid to the Middle East amounts to about $7 to $8 billion annually or more than one-third of all foreign aid given by Washington. Our economic aid doesn't come close in comparison.
“While there is no doubt that China is a global economic powerhouse, the US has more than $80 billion in foreign direct investments in the Middle East. And how much do we have? China's investment in the first half of 2022 was $1.5 billion, so we are not in the same tier as them.
“Overall, US influence in the Middle East is declining, but even so, there’s still more where that came from. The real question is how much power it retains in comparison to other countries.
“One obvious change in US policy toward the Middle East is that the US no longer encourages peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Biden is the only US president in the last 20 years who has not proposed a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan during a visit to Palestine and Israel.
“Although the US is now paying more attention to great power competition, it is unclear how far this will go. There are several options available to us in China regarding the Middle East.
The first question is: Do we want to partake in a great power competition over the Middle East? If we believe that the US has made China its primary adversary, we have a set of policy options;
“if we believe that the US is all bark and no bite 口头说说, and has no intention of competing strategically with China in the Middle East, our policy options are different. Presently, our strategic position in the Middle East is fairly secure 舒适 ("comfy").
“In the midst of the US strategic contraction, we have been able to maintain good relations with all of the Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that the US is clearly trying to beat us down 打压.
“As for the future, we need to ask ourselves whether we should continue our economic expansion in the region and whether we should become more involved in its politics and security.
“Alternatively, should we escalate the conflict with the US and use the Middle East as a pawn in the great power competition, or should we try to avoid confrontation with America as much as possible? All of these issues are still up for debate.” (ESSRA)
Playing in the Background
To readers who will be celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival on Saturday, happy holidays! Here is In the Autumn Nights by Shem-Tov Levi and Yehudit Ravitz:
Discourse Power is written by Tuvia Gering, a researcher at the 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’s Krauthammer Fellow, specializing in Chinese security and foreign policy, and emergency and disaster management. Any views expressed in this newsletter, as well as any errors, are solely those of the author. Follow Tuvia on Twitter @GeringTuvia