Discourse Power | January 26, 2023
Greetings from Tel Aviv and happy new year!
Before we begin, here are three recommendations that are relevant to today’s edition:
Global Voices, a non-profit, published a report on China’s global narrative building around the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It investigates the impact of Chinese technology transfer, soft power, and communication on infrastructure investment and development in 14 different countries.
The research, conducted in collaboration with local researchers and writers, examines how local perspectives support or oppose China’s ambitions, as well as how China advances narratives that strengthen its global power. The data and stories examine the narratives used to support or oppose the BRI, and they discuss how BRI projects affect local economies, societies, ecosystems, and media spaces.
The China Digital Times‘ Arthur Kaufman provides a synopsis of the report as well as some anecdotes from several countries that add color to China’s iffy BRI messaging.
It is important to add that while China’s favorability ratings in developed countries have indeed been declining, Pew, Afrobarometer, and Arab Barometer polls conducted in Global South nations over the last few years show a rise in Chinese appeal over the past decade since the BRI’s launch in 2013.
This bit from Kaufman is interesting:
Last month, ISIS attacked a Chinese-run hotel in Kabul, injuring five Chinese nationals. ISIS explicitly stated that “Chinese communists” were among their targets in the attack, and has previously cited China’s oppression of Uyghurs and relationship with the Taliban as motivating factors for its hostility.
Since the U.S. withdrawal last August, China has sought to fill the gap through an increasing number of investment deals with the Taliban and a further integration of Afghanistan into the BRI. Earlier this month, a Chinese company signed a $540-million deal with the Afghan government to develop an oil and gas field in northern Afghanistan, marking the largest deal since the Taliban takeover.
Much of the Chinese state-media framing of China’s engagement in Afghanistan has ignored underlying local anti-China sentiment and instead praised Chinese government actions, such as humanitarian aid donations. One of the three articles about the ISIS attack published in the Global Times was an in-depth feature that repeatedly described the Chinese embassy’s heroic role in responding to the situation.
Finally, I would like to recommend China Media Project‘s most recent article about a novel manifestation of Chinese United Front work and the development of international discourse power.
It details how Nanchang Aviation University announced the establishment of a new center with the China Media Group (the state media conglomerate formed in 2018 directly under the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department) to use “overseas student resources” (留学生资源) to aid China’s external propaganda objectives:
How would you respond if you discovered that a Chinese university you partnered with had launched a specialized research center in partnership with that country’s Central Propaganda Department, whose purpose was to actively utilize foreign exchange students as “resources” for global propaganda?
Audacious though it may seem, such a scheme is already underway in China. It is one of the more egregious examples of how a range of actors in the country — including high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bodies, state media, local governments, and universities — are responding to the top-down mandate from the CCP leadership to pursue greater “discourse power” around the world as a whole-society effort.
According to coverage by China Education Daily, a newspaper directly under the Ministry of Education, the new center is an experiment in combining central CCP media and universities (央媒+高校) to carry out international communication by using the “overseas student resources” (留学生资源) of the university.
In coverage of the new communication center, Nanchang Aviation University said the venture implemented the concept of “international communication by all” (人人国际传播), which emerged in Chinese strategic circles in 2022.
Nanchang Aviation University has so far established cooperation with more than 70 universities in 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.
Guo Ke (郭可), the head of the School of Journalism and Communication at Shanghai Foreign Languages University, linked the idea of “international communication by all” to his own concept of “international communication +N” (国际传播+N).
This was essentially the idea, “N” denoting an infinity of voices, that China’s global communication strategy must rely not just on state-run media and centralized messaging, but must be carried out by individual Chinese on a broad scale.
If you find Discourse Power useful, interesting, or upsetting, please share it or leave a comment. I’d be thrilled to hear from you.
Thank you for reading,
Dr. Wang Jinyan, associate research fellow and deputy director of the China-Africa Institute, a think tank under the auspices of CASS, considers the prospects for Sino-Arab cooperation on the BRI under the shadow of great-power competition.
“The US has been decreasing its focus and investments in the Middle East, making the region’s countries, particularly its allies, less trusting and dependent on Washington. As these countries become more familiar with ours and come to identify themselves 认同 with us, their readiness to “look east” will become more apparent in theory and practice.
“In recent years, Arab countries have increasingly acknowledged and praised China’s long-held concepts of “non-interference in internal affairs,” “peace through development” “以发展促和平, and “civilizational diversity” 文明多样性; China’s development achievements are the envy 羡慕 of the Arab world. Arab nations have reaped huge benefits from the joint development of the BRI with China.
“According to polls in Arab countries, they favor China more than the US [see this newsletter’s introduction]. They hope to deepen cooperation with China and strengthen the exchange of governance experience, which has grown significantly. All of this demonstrates that the reduction in US intervention and investment in the Middle East has created new opportunities for China to develop the BRI in collaboration with Arab countries.
“The US has long regarded China as its primary strategic rival. In recent years, it has used a variety of methods and stepped up its efforts to contain 遏制 and suppress 打压 China’s attempts to expand the BRI with Arab nations.
“It has, for example, manufactured and disseminated negative coverage of our BRI, tarnished our international image, increased investment in areas of regional cooperation and development where we have achieved positive results and has not refrained from engaging in vicious competition 恶性竞争. This holds true for high-tech industries like 5G and artificial intelligence, where Arab nations that work with China are under pressure to cut ties and turn to American alternatives instead.
“Last April, Dana Stroul, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, warned Arab nations not to work with China and Russia on security matters because it might jeopardize their sovereignty. Such disruptive actions by the US are likely to have an impact on the cooperation between us and some Arab countries.
“The Arab world’s indifference, if not hostility 敌视, toward the US following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was unexpected. In order to regain their support, the US has increased its focus on the region.
“Nevertheless, the fact that the US is still the most significant extraterritorial power in the Middle East cannot be disputed. Middle Eastern nations are very drawn to its generous financial support, cutting-edge technology, and assistance with weapons and equipment. Washington is making every effort to entice its allies in the Middle East, which will have a certain detrimental effect on the BRI.”
“In its current stage, the BRI has advanced from “painting in broad strokes” 大写意 to “meticulous brushwork” 工笔画. China’s BRI cooperation with the Arab world is expanding and improving in both quality and substance.
“Meanwhile, the US and its Western allies control a variety of means and tools to try to suppress 压制 and break us 和破, and they are likely to continue to smear 抹黑, discredit 诋毁, and constrain 遏制 our development interests and international cooperation. This is part of the ongoing competition between our two countries, which will go on for a very long time.
“At the same time, we must recognize that the trend toward economic globalization cannot be stopped. The era in which America dominated global politics and economic development is over.
“In particular, when it comes to the BRI with Arab countries, we should not overestimate the US’s appeal to the Middle East, nor should we underestimate the destructive power it wields over the region.
“In the future, China can promote cooperation with Arab countries to achieve high-quality development in the following areas, focusing on key priorities, delicately refining our approach 精雕细琢, and jointly creating a brilliant painting with meticulous brushwork:”
“The Western system of government has long had an impact on the majority of Arab nations. However, the reality of some countries has shown to be incompatible with the Western model of governance, leading to severe governance difficulties and even serious political unrest.
“Whether on bilateral or multilateral events, numerous Arab dignitaries have expressed their willingness to intensify the exchange of governance experience with China and to learn from our system of governance.
“Both now and in the future, China and Arab nations will have to deal with traditional and non-traditional security concerns, including terrorism, pandemics, food shortages, climate change, and data breaches. Furthermore, we face challenges in grassroots governance such as poverty alleviation and rural revitalization.
“China should continue to strengthen governance exchanges with Arab countries, engage in bilateral and multilateral governance cooperation, improve policy communication and political friendship, and improve its political relations.”
“First, focus on industrial security together...Long-term risks pose difficulties for the safe and stable operation of industrial chains and supply chains. China and the Arab nations both face these issues, which could aggravate further. Through exchanges and joint research, China and the Arab nations can jointly identify the chokepoints, bottlenecks, and breaking points of industrial chains and supply chains, as well as how to address them.
“Second, China and the US compete fiercely in the high-tech sector in the Arab world today and will continue to do so in the future. Relevant Chinese institutions and businesses should hold in-depth discussions with their Arab counterparts about the best ways to collaborate in these sectors and then put that cooperation into action.
“Third, by further optimizing the construction of industrial parks, we can assist Arab countries in improving their overall level of industrialization and create new avenues for bilateral trade and investment growth.
“Finally, China can try to collaborate with Gulf sovereign funds, establish special funds for Sino-Arab infrastructure construction and production capacity cooperation, use Gulf capital markets to issue stocks and infrastructure bonds, and actively introduce third parties to jointly participate in financing, among other things.”
“The global peace deficit, security deficit, trust deficit, and governance deficit [aka “The Four Deficits” 四大赤字, a Xi formulation] have all increased in recent years, as have the security challenges confronting human society.
“In this context, General Secretary Xi Jinping solemnly proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in his keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022, offering Chinese solutions to global security governance challenges and promoting global security and coexistence. The Middle East has one of the world’s most serious security deficits, making it critical to promote the GSI in the region.
“On the one hand, China requires security guarantees 安全保障 in order to develop the BRI in collaboration with Arab countries. Most key sectors (e.g., energy, infrastructure) in which China and Arab countries collaborate involve large investments, long project life cycles, and a slow return on investment, and are strongly affected by the regional security environment.
“On the other hand, Arab countries have long relied heavily on Western countries in terms of security, and especially the US “security umbrella.” In light of America’s current military withdrawal from the Middle East, China should enhance its security cooperation with Arab nations to increase the scope and depth of Sino-Arab cooperation.
“In terms of specific measures, we can first moderately increase our efforts to promote peace in hotspot issues, thereby demonstrating our role as a major power [大国担当, another Xi formulation]. In recent years, China has put forward Chinese initiatives and solutions to a number of regional hotspot issues and governance problems, and our objective and impartial stance has earned the respect and trust of regional countries.
“In the future, we can continue to explore the establishment of bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms with the Arab side, increase our participation in Arab affairs, and play a larger role in promoting Middle East security and stability.
Furthermore, we should continue to hold the Middle East Security Forum [the second was held in September 2022] and other frameworks to jointly explore with regional countries security mechanisms and effective paths. They should meet the actual needs of the region on the basis of the principle of “Middle East-owned and Middle East-led” [another].”
“Our country is far and away from the Arab world, and there are significant differences in language, culture, customs, and habits, and people on both sides do not know one another well enough.
“The US and the West have been maligning China’s reputation and tarnishing our image for a very long time. As a result, there are many misconceptions and preconceptions about China among the Arab public.
“China should strengthen humanities exchanges with Arab countries in a variety of ways in the future to improve mutual understanding and knowledge at multiple levels. The primary methods are to expand the scope of educational cooperation and to send foreign students to and from as many Arab countries as possible;
“increase exchanges between academic institutions, media, think tanks, and other platforms, and institutionalize visiting scholar exchanges between institutions on both sides; expand the number of high-quality translations of novels, scientific research, film, and TV shows;
“hold Sino-Arab civilization dialogue seminars and Sino-Arab cultural festivals on a regular basis within the framework of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) to lay a solid foundation for the BRI in the hearts and minds of the people 夯实“一带一路”的民心基础.”
“The Arab League will assume a more significant role in China’s collaborative efforts with Arab countries to develop the BRI as consciousness of Arab countries’ solidarity and cooperation grows.
“In the future, the two sides will continue to develop practical cooperation under the CASCF framework in accordance with the established goals and pace, in order to serve the common interests of the Chinese and Arab peoples.
“It should be noted that some Arab countries are also members of other international organizations or forums that are friendly to China. African Arab countries, for example, are also members of the African Union and collaborate with China through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)…China should also fully utilize these institutions and mechanisms to serve Sino-Arab cooperation.” (World Socialist Studies journal)
Professor Yang Chaoming is searching for the Chinese nation’s spiritual genes and homeland, urging China’s various peoples to return to their roots – their Han-dominated Confucian roots, that is.
Yang is a Distinguished Professor at Shandong University, the International Confucian Association’s Vice President, and the Chinese Confucian Academy’s Deputy Dean. He is a member of China’s top political consultative body, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (NC-CPPCC).
Confucianism and Confucius himself were not always as popular in China as they are now under Xi Jinping, to say the least (I’m talking about bombing his tomb like a city with Cordyceps Brain Infection). If you’re new to the subject or need a refresher, start with this primer by The Economist.
Excerpts from Yang’s article:
“Guoxue (国学 Chinese Traditional Culture; lit. National Learning/Studies) is the cultural genes of the nation 国人的文化基因, and it is up to the Chinese people to cherish and revere their national history and culture. If we are to promote cultural self-confidence and self-improvement [自强, lit. self-strengthening], we must rejuvenate Guoxue.
“We must search for the Chinese nation’s spiritual genes 民族精神基因 in the depths of history; use our national DNA 民族基因 to till the lands of our spiritual homeland 精神家园; revisit the past to reflect on the present 温古鉴今; and investigate the transformation and renewal of our traditional elements 传统元素.
“Confucianism represents the form 样态 and ethos 气质 of the culture that has evolved over the course of 5,000 years in China, a great civilization. For millennia, it has made it possible for the Chinese people to coexist in peace and harmony.
“If we are to chart the blueprint 铺染底色 for the lives of the Chinese people today, we must continually research and unravel tradition, grasp the essence of Guoxue, and carry on the Confucian legacy.
“Guoxue is first and foremost defined as an academic discipline that determines morality, values, and beliefs; it establishes the boundaries and qualities of our national culture. Second, Guoxue is anchored in Confucianism and the Six Confucian Classics [the Book of Changes, the Book of History, the Book of Songs, the Book of Rites, the Book of Music, and the Spring and Autumn Annals].
“The term “Guoxue” first appeared as a concept in the Rites of Zhou [2nd century BC], where it is stated that “the minstrels were in charge of the official Guoxue and taught the children of the state how to dance” 乐师掌国学之政，以教国子小舞. Here it refers to the “national studies” of the state 邦国.
“From antiquity, China has placed a high value on social education. “Teaching was the top priority when the ancient rulers built their kingdoms and ruled over the gentry and common folk” 古之王者，建国君民，教学为先, and education was viewed as the cornerstone of the state.
“The righteousness of filial piety and fraternal duty 孝悌之义 was imparted to society in ancient China through the establishment of schools 庠, archery ranges 序, and so on [a reference to Mencius].
“The meaning of Guoxue is different today; it was created after the Western powers invaded China. The great Chinese nation 中华民族 came into being in order to distinguish between “Western learning” 西学 [intellectual movement of the late Qing Dynasty] and “Chinese learning” 中国之学 in the midst of its struggle for salvation and survival.
“To truly learn Guoxue, we must first understand its roots, appreciate the spirit of the Land of the Han 华夏之魂, and forge the soul of the nation 民族精神. Although Guoxue does not exclude other ethnic groups’ cultural traditions or the cultural characteristics of their respective regions, it is critical that we understand what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s fundamental and what’s incidental 看清主次，区分本末. “Where there’s a source, there’s unity; where there’s an origin, there’s a community” 统之有宗，会之有元 [General Remarks on the Books of Changes 周易略例 by Wang Bi 王弼 (AD 226–249)]
“Chinese Guoxue has its own pivotal substance 中心意涵, and Chinese traditional culture has a mainstream 主流. As per Mr. Li Xueqin [CASS historian, D. 2019], “the mainstream of Guoxue is Confucianism, and the core of Confucianism is the classics 经学.”
“During the Ming Dynasty [1368-1644 AD], it was said, “The reason China is China is that it has customs of propriety and righteousness, as well as the beauty of garments and cultural relics” 盖中国之所以为中国者，以有礼义之风，衣冠文物之美也.
“ “The teachings of China began with Confucius,” according to historian Mr. Xia Zhenyou 夏曾佑 (1863-1924). [The renowned Qing reformer] Mr. Liang Qichao 梁启超 (1873-1929) said that the culture of China for thousands of years “rests on Confucianism” and “Chinese culture cannot be separated from Confucianism”. Wherefore China? Therefore China! 何以中国? 是以中国！
“When discussing world civilizations today, many people refer to Karl Jaspers’ (1883-1969) “Axial Age” (8th to 3rd century BC) theory. However, this theory ignores the long history of Chinese civilization prior to Confucius and Laozi, as well as the reasons why many ancient Chinese thinkers revered the kings of antiquity… Chinese civilization had reached a state of flourishing maturity 成熟期鼎盛期 at the time of Confucius.
“Academic research and archaeological findings show that Confucianism is firmly rooted in the soil of our ancient civilization. This great tree of our civilization has a sturdy trunk because of its robust and extensive roots.
“Confucianism is inherently characterized by its openness 开放. Confucius was a lifelong student of history, nature, and society. Today, in order to promote Guoxue and establish a culture fit for the times, we must incorporate all of human civilization’s outstanding accomplishments.
“The philosophy and social sciences that shaped the “Chinese mind” 中国心智 in the first few decades of reform and opening up were not the inheritance of traditional texts or contemporary research based on Chinese reality, but the indefatigable 经久不息 translation, study, research, and teaching of Western academic works and masterpieces.
“Mr. Wang Xuedian 王学典 [b. 1956, a historian and CPPCC political advisor with Shandong University] clearly points out that the “Chinese mind” formed during this period is in fact an ” outward-looking mind” 外向型心智.
“If this trend continues, the contemporary form 术 of Guoxue may become nothing more than a Chinese echo 回响 of Western scholarship. In order to reverse this trend, it is imperative that we go back to our roots and reclaim 光复 [as in territory] the canonical epoch of early Chinese philosophy.
“The formalization, superficiality, and utilitarianism that are frequently seen in the promotion of Chinese traditional culture today exist because of the prevalence of practices that are either radical and reckless 激进冒进, and people forcing themselves into [ideological] corners 偏执一隅.
“We shall not follow the “old ways” 老路 nor the “evil ways” 邪路; rather, we should follow the wisdom of the Middle Way and the Doctrine of the Mean, walking straight ahead with no deviations or leanings 执中而行不偏不倚.” (Dongxiwen)
Dr. Casper’s Rabbit Show, Israel’s answer to Nirvana, wishing that this year Everything Will Be Okay:
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