Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping issued a directive on Monday (May 31), asking CCP leaders at all levels to “strive to build a credible, lovable and respectable image of China” and “tell a good Chinese story. Some scholars believe that Xi Jinping’s “tell a good China story” is a sign that he feels the crisis of having “enemies all over the world”; others interpret it as a signal that China’s war-wolf diplomacy is at the end of its rope and needs to be fine-tuned.
Telling the crisis story behind the China story
At a study session of the Communist Party’s Politburo on Monday, Xi Jinping reiterated the need to tell a good Chinese story, with the theme of strengthening China’s “international communication capacity. Gao Valin, an independent scholar, said he saw at least two stories of crisis behind Xi Jinping’s idea of telling a good China story.
“One is that China’s current grand foreign propaganda, which has been implemented for many years and has invested a lot of human and financial resources, has failed repeatedly and has either gone down the drain or backfired, posing a contrast in image, causing resentment in expression and leading to counteraction in action. The current generation of Chinese diplomats, from the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ambassadors abroad, are mostly war wolves, ‘a good word is warm in three winters, a bad word is cold in June’, the effect of how many good articles and good programs will be invigorating all offset, so that people can see that words and actions are not the same, it is difficult to trust. Propaganda is ‘our friends all over the world’, actually triggered ‘our enemies all over the world’ effect.”
The second crisis story, Gao said, is that “with the rise of the global Internet, social media and self-media, the CCP’s past monolithic foreign propaganda appears to be at its wits’ end, and the traditional orthodox discourse is instantly deconstructed.”
Govarin explained that in the case of the major decision to open up to three children announced by the CCP Politburo on May 31, “there was an overwhelming backlash from the Chinese people, with negative criticism accounting for a large part of it, and with such feedback, it was difficult to build a positive image of China and its rulers in front of the world.”
Zhang Weiwei advises the CCP Politburo on its work
Other international media reports suggest that Xi’s directive may signal that Beijing is seeking to ease the difficult international situation brought on by its war-wolf diplomacy.
A Fudan University alumnus, who asked not to be named so that he could speak freely, said the Politburo study session was held with Professor Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University. He said that according to Xinhua News Agency, an unusual feature of the study session was that the invited professor not only gave a lecture but also “put forward working proposals,” and that not only did he put forward working proposals, but the members of the Central Politburo also discussed his proposals.
According to the Fudan alumnus, if some formal changes occur in China’s foreign policy in the future, this may be the suggestion made by Zhang Weiwei at this study session on telling the Chinese story, “and the final conclusion of the meeting, which may mean a little more favorable treatment for foreigners in the future, and a little more vigorous united front work, no longer like in the past, such as always going to lecture others.”
Has war-wolf diplomacy come to an end?
China has been widely criticized in the international community since the implementation of war-wolf diplomacy. Does this Communist Party political study session signal some kind of change?
The Fudan alumnus said one of Xi’s instructions was to “carry out various forms of humanistic exchanges and promote humanistic exchanges between China and other countries through various channels.”
He said a major Chinese university recently approached him to seek cooperation with the U.S. to run a school. He asked the other party, curiously, how this was possible now that U.S.-China relations were so bad. He was surprised to learn that the Chinese Ministry of Education had recently approved several projects for cooperation with the United States.
The Fudan alumnus believes that Beijing’s rigid war-wolf diplomacy toward the West in the past has actually damaged China’s image, and “it would not be surprising to find that Beijing’s foreign policy has been fine-tuned or even moderately adjusted in the future, and this telling of the China story could be a signal.”
The point is that Xi has repeatedly instructed to tell the China story, but the fact that he has issued instructions again and again suggests that the story has not been told well.
Bribery and corruption go hand in hand with telling a good China story
The Voice of America has reported on the imprisonment of former Hong Kong Civil Affairs Bureau chief and Chinese National Committee member Ho Chi-ping for bribing senior UN and African officials, and Ho’s bribery activities have been “parallel” to his role in telling the China story in the international community.
Since 2013, He has held annual “China Story” seminars at the UN headquarters in New York to introduce the Chinese government’s policies to UN officials.
Xi has always argued that the Chinese Communist Party has done a good job, but it just hasn’t told its story well. Can he really tell the China story well this time around, for a change from his past record?
“The trick is to be truthful,” says independent scholar Gao Valin, “but this is something that is easier said than done. What the CCP has always boasted, but always failed to do, is these four words: seek truth from facts.”
For many CCP foreign affairs officials, telling the “China story” means telling only the “good China story. Govarin said, “If criticism is not free, praise is meaningless. Falsehoods are not true, so the positive side of China’s story loses credibility, and it is always counter-attacking when dealing with negative reports from the outside media, never admitting to its mistakes and becoming increasingly passive. Overseas people, including the Chinese public, would rather believe the not necessarily reliable claims of social media spin-offs than the righteous statements of official Chinese figures and media.”
Govarin said what made him laugh and cry the most was Xi’s statement that “we should pursue the strategy and art of public opinion struggle”; and that “we should make friends, unite and win over the majority, and continuously expand the circle of international public opinion friends who know China and are friendly to China.” But Gao Valin said, “It is precisely Xi Jinping himself who keeps pushing many people who do not harbor malice toward the CCP and do not have political intentions into the opposing camp.”
According to Govarin, Xi Jinping’s task of telling the “China story” is an impossible one, given the current system of the Communist Party. Because “seeking truth from facts” and “power over others” are fundamentally opposed to each other. “Many Chinese stories are very good, very factual, but because they don’t fit perfectly with the authorities’ propaganda, they are blocked and suppressed, which results in many true “good Chinese stories” not being believed.”