Analysis Chinese state-controlled media has revealed the nation's rulers have decided it’s time for a charm offensive.
As reported by Xinhua: “This week, the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) met to study an important subject -- strengthening the country's international communication.”
President Xi Jinping took the lead and “said the issue is imperative as it is conducive to creating a favorable external environment for China's reform, development and stability, as well as actively contributing to building a community with a shared future for humanity.
“Xi urged efforts to develop a voice in international discourse that matches with China's comprehensive national strength and international status, presenting a true, multi-dimensional and panoramic view of the country.”
The leader also “called for efforts to help foreign audiences understand that what the [Communist] Party pursues is the well-being of Chinese people. Efforts must be made to help foreigners know how the Party can get things done, why Marxism works and why socialism with Chinese characteristics is good.”
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This will all be done using “a narrative tone that reflects openness and confidence, yet conveys modesty and humility, in a bid to shape a reliable, admirable and respectable image of China.”
China will build a corps of effective communicators to get this done.
No timeframe has been offered for delivery of these positive stories, nor has China detailed how it plans to get the word out.
A flood of online content emphasizing China’s very best qualities is surely inevitable.
Just how social media giants react to Chinese accounts pumping out non-stop good news will be fascinating to watch. So will whether China can resist criticism if fact-checkers reject its output.
The nation’s foreign ministry regularly uses very strong language to protest what it feels is unfair treatment – such as any talk of topics China would rather avoid, like the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square or the punishing reeducation camps for Muslims in the Xinjiang province. Chinese embassies have been unafraid to be highly critical of their host countries’ actions when Chinese apps are blocked or banned.
Any changes to China’s cultural output will also be worth watching. While some Chinese cinema and literature has become popular outside the Middle Kingdom in recent years, the nation has nowhere near the soft power that cinema and comics have conferred on Japan, or the cultural footprint that contemporary music creates for the UK. That lack of cool factor was one reason Beijing was so upset by the USA’s ban on TikTok – having finally come up with a genuine youth culture phenomenon, China saw it labelled as a security and privacy risk that gave users around the world good reasons to stick with the social networks they already used.
News of the charm offensive comes in the same week as China made two other very significant announcements.
China will use 'narrative tone that reflects openness and confidence, yet conveys modesty and humility'
The first changed the nation’s two-children-per-family policy to allow three children in each household without attracting penalties from the state. The change is an acknowledgment that China’s population is ageing, fast, and that the nation’s tax base may struggle to support a large population of retirees. It’s also an acknowledgement that China’s long-standing one-child policy means many citizens face the prospect of assuming responsibility for aged parents and grandparents, which won’t do a lot for productivity.
The other significant announcement, also championed by Xi, was a restatement of China’s intention to become self-sufficient in science and technology.
Self-sufficiency won’t happen unless China has enough people to do the necessary work. Nor will it happen if China is viewed with suspicion around the world – Chinese researchers will nearly always yearn to or need to collaborate across borders and Chinese businesses will often need to source supplies from abroad.
This charm offensive therefore matters.
And now we need to consider seminal fuzz pop band The Jesus and Mary Chain, as it this week posted the video below in which Chinese fans extol the group’s virtues.
The vid is worth considering as an example of content that tells a story about something simple and pure: a Chinese fan’s love of music. As a Mary Chain fan myself, the vid tells me that I can find like-minded pals in China, a location that previously seemed an unlikely source of admirers of Scottish punk/pop/shoegaze music.
Watching the video therefore made your correspondent feel a little better-disposed to China and taught me a bit about local culture, all without a single mention of Marx or socialism with Chinese characteristics. ®