'The West restrains, defames and infiltrates us'

Beijing’s mistrust of the outside world and the country’s poor international image are major obstacles for China’s superpower dream. Leaked documents show that the Communist Party indtends to shut off western criticism while intensifying a campaign to improve its international reputation
28. juni 2011

On the 5 March this year, Premier Wen Jiabao took to the pulpit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and proclaimed that China will work for a ”harmonious world”. For the nearly 3,000 parliamentarians – and for anyone who followed the live television transmission of the speech – he talked at length about the nation’s growing friendship, dialogue and cooperation with foreign countries.

It was a most positive worldview that China’s Prime Minister expressed to the public.

But on that very day, the highest authority in the country, the Communist Party Central Committee, issued a classified document which reveals that behind closed doors, the regime takes a very different and a much more negative view of the rest of the world. The relationship with the West in particular is far from being harmonious – rather, it is directly hostile, it stated.

The contents of the document points to a Chinese leadership plagued by a growing siege mentality. Beijing sees itself as being under attack by the West and forced into a propaganda struggle against internal and external enemies. In this frame of reference, nothing less than the Communist Party’s hold on power is at stake.

In the document, the party presents its own version of international dialogue: seal off China’s borders from foreign influence and intensify the propaganda efforts abroad for changing the international community’s views on China.

Western pressure

”Hostile forces inside and outside of China are urging us to change. They are trying by all means to contain our development, to defame our image and to infiltrate our ideology and our culture. They are trying to pressurise us to accept Western values and a Western political system,” the document states.

In another classified document from the party leadership in Beijing, it is estimated that China is up against forces that ”keep on getting stronger, more professional, more brutal, better organized and that are increasingly technically sophisticated.” To overcome these forces ”is a prerequisite for upholding the stability of the party’s power base.”

”They do perceive the West as a real threat and one that must be taken quite seriously,” says Anne-Marie Brady from New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, who specializes in Chinese propaganda and international relations. ”With documents such as these, the regime intends to instruct its system that it should at all times remain on guard against ‘hostile forces’, that are pressing for the Chinese regime to fall.”

Beijing’s mistrust of the West, justified or not, has had a negative impact on the country’s foreign policy, Anne-Marie Brady says: ”It makes them cautious. Because China lacks confidence in the outside world, China has virtually no international friends, but only troubled relationships,” she says.

A genuine fear?

Bo Zhiyue, a professor from the National University of Singapore, however, believes that it is not necessarily the case that the party elite considers the threat from the West to be a real one. Instead, conjuring up this threat could be part of an intimidation technique that aims to create a stronger unity within the party. ”The system can use a perceived common enemy to justify the need for further extending its control over the Chinese society and a tougher stance to fight enemy influence,” he says.

As a point in case, Information could yesterday reveal that according to classified documents leaked from the highest level within China’s power structure, the regime wishes to adopt a harder line with intensified censorship and control of the Internet and the media to be followed up by a more extensive population surveillance.

But while Beijing view the West with great suspicion, the regime also intends to increase its efforts ind downplaying the lingering nervousness, which the outside world feels towards to China.

”China sees the creation of a positive international image as the last major hurdle on the road to superpower status,” says David Bandurski, a media researcher from Hong Kong University.

This objective must be met through a two-pronged effort, the documents from the Chinese leadership show: A positive outlook on China will be disseminated through a comprehensive campaign to fight what Beijing sees as a Western smear campaign against China. At the same time, it must be prevented that critical voices and critical news reports find their way to foreign media columns.

As stated by the Central Committee ”control over foreign journalists [who work in China] should be strengthened.”

”The control is intended primarily to prevent foreign journalists from getting any opportunity to report on matters that could affect foreigners views on China in an adverse way,” says Jean-Philippe Beja of the Centre for International Studies and Research in Paris. ”But a point of equal importance is that Beijing is nervous that the critical coverage of China outside the country should find its way back to China via the Internet and have a negative impact on how the Chinese wiew the party.”

Fighting criticism

Since the order of an enhanced control was given by the Chinese leadership, the authorities have to large extent restricted working conditions for foreign journalist, who have been monitored, prevented from conducting interviews, threatened and in some cases even physically assaulted by the authorities.

Documents from the leadership also show that an active effort should be undertaken to prevent regime enemies from speaking their mind in foreign media. ”We must reduce the power that supporters of Tibetan independence and Xinjiang’s separatist forces enjoy in the international public opinion,” it is stated.

Instead, the critical voices and news reports should be replaced by the workings of Beijing's own propaganda machine. The documents specify that China must ”become much better at propagating its propaganda on foreign policy” and that views abroad about China ”are to be influenced and guided in to create a more benign international opinion”.

The image that China wants to sell to the rest of the world is that of a country characterized by a ”peaceful development, democratic progress and opening up to the outside world.” At the same time, a more forceful ”defense of the human rights situation” in China should be put into practice.

”This year, one of China’s main objectives has been to expand its influence on the public opinion worldwide,” says David Bandurski. This influence should materialise by internationally expanding China’s state-controlled media – a move which among other things is motivated by Beijing’s ”bitterness at a perceived Western media dominance within the international agenda,” the media researcher says. ”But so far this campaign has been hampered by China’s restrictive information control and a media culture, whose focus is on producing versions of reality and facts that are apt to serve narrow political interests.”

For Yan Xuetong, an influential professor with a good insight in Chinas’s political circles as headmaster of Beijing's Tsinghua University's Institute for International Studies, a dramatical improvement of China’s image is imperative if China’s future power on the international arena should be effectively increased.

”China must compete with the U.S. on friendship with the rest of the world's nations. If our number of friends shall be smaller than America’s, we will never be in a position to offer a better international leadership than they do,” he says. ”Many people express a dislike of America’shegemonic leadership, but they also tend to think that China would be the worse alternative. China must show that we can do better. And this can not only be done through propaganda efforts. We must also find practical ways to manifest our human authority.”

Information's reporter has presented the sources in this news story with summary and quotes from the content of the document files in question. Sources have not actually seen the files.

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