China must ensure it is better understood
Foreign suspicions have raised doubts about the country’s soft power and Beijing has complained of unfair treatment, so efforts must be made by all sides to ease tensions
Foreign suspicions about China, from people to companies to products, raise doubts about the effectiveness of Chinese soft power. Billions of dollars are devoted annually to promoting the nation and its image.
Governments welcome the financial benefits of trade, investment, tourism and university students but, increasingly in some countries, there is a backlash. An unhealthy environment is emerging with echoes of the cold war that all sides have to heal to avoid imperilling relations.
Nations should respect and understand one another. But China’s government is viewed by many in the West as authoritarian and controlling. Curbs on the internet and media are seen as proof of an unwillingness to be transparent and open. There is unease about Beijing’s growing global confidence, the belief being that Beijing is becoming a rule-maker rather than a rule-follower.
In such an environment, suspicions abound, as with American-Chinese businesswoman Wendi Deng Murdoch, the former wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who has been accused in a report in one of his newspapers of secretly working for Chinese government interests through a friendship with US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband and presidential adviser, Jared Kushner.
The spying allegations extend to Chinese firms seeking to buy overseas companies, with national security concerns regularly being given by governments for rejecting deals. Chinese-made hi-tech products are sometimes seen as a threat for the data they collect and store.
There has also been concern that Beijing is trying to shape overseas attitudes and influence political decision-making, highlighted by the case of an Australian senator forced to resign over alleged dealings with an ethnic Chinese businessman. The incident led to the tabling in parliament of a bill banning foreign donations and a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Canberra.
Allegations of interference have also extended to university campuses and state-funded Confucius Institutes, which promote Chinese language and culture. A big expansion of state media overseas has deepened suspicions. But every nation has the right to protect its interests and serve the needs of its overseas communities and, in a democracy, to freely share views and opinions.
Beijing has complained of unfair treatment and even racism. Some overseas Chinese have been made unwelcome. While Beijing has a vast media network to inform the world, it needs to do more at home. Relaxing controls such as those on the internet so foreign journalists, businesspeople and visitors can work and travel as they do in their own countries will help. But China and its ways also need to be better understood by others; all sides have to make an effort to ease tensions.