Hong Kong, June 7 (ANI): The 30th collective study of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Political Bureau was addressed by Chairman Xi Jinping on 31 May. One takeaway from that session was the need for the party to improve its "international communication work". However, this in no way equates to a change of heart, but simply a more nuanced form of propaganda.
When the CCP refers to "international communication work", it means external propaganda to foreigners. The CCP's publication of Xi's speech gives insight into Xi's ongoing effort to continue the "struggle" to put forth the party's one-eyed perspective.
Xi's supplications do seem to imply that the "wolf warrior diplomacy" approach has been a dismal failure. However, there is no blame to be attached to China, but simply a better methodology needs to be employed to get through to an obtuse world, according to Xi.
Adam Ni, co-founder of the China Neican newsletter, summarized: "What Xi's words boil down to is the idea that discourse is warfare, and Beijing's image has been tarred by bias and misunderstanding (rather than because of any objective problems with its policies per se). Therefore, what needs to be done is for China to sell its message better rather than reflect on its course of sail."Ni continued, "The problem with Xi's underlying philosophy is that discursive engagement with the world is seen not as a dialogue, but rather as a contest."Indeed, "Discourse is a struggle where there are only victors and losers; there are only those who do the convincing, and those who are convinced. Such a philosophy is not the basis for dialogue, it is the basis for conflict and domination."Of course, for communist-controlled nations, propaganda is the only means of discourse. No contrary voice is tolerable, and no competing narrative - especially the truth - can gain traction. This is typified by the CCP expunging the tragic events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when the People's Liberation Army mowed down hundreds of peaceful protestors.
The CCP goes to extraordinary lengths, in both the virtual and real worlds, to prevent discussion of those events. Now it is doing the same in Hong Kong, where citizens have kept the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre alive with annual 4 June candlelight vigils. Under the pretext of COVID-19 restrictions, a mass rally was banned and police were out in force to dissuade any from commemorating the event. It is fear of this chilling erasure of history and free speech that emboldened Hong Kong citizens to protest their government's embrace of communist tenets in recent years.
Ni observed, "Under this framework, China's story, voice and culture become approved caricatures that serve the party-state's political agenda, rather than as vehicles for meaningful cultural exchange and friendship. This is a tragedy for China and the world."Xi said that "telling a good China story, spreading a good Chinese voice and showing a real, three-dimensional and comprehensive China are important tasks in strengthening China's international communication capacity". In such "stories", one cannot expect the truth, but only messages that promote the party's image, ensure its longevity and preserve its elite members' positions of power.
An examination of the published speech, as translated by Ni at Neican, reveals Xi's obsession with narratives. However, he warned that China faces a "new situation and tasks". Therefore, "It is necessary to strengthen the top-level design and research layout, build a strategic communication system with distinctive Chinese characteristics, and focus on improving the influence of international communication, the appeal of Chinese culture, the affability of China's image, the persuasive power of Chinese discourse and the guiding power of our international public opinion efforts."Xi's aims are dissolved in a solution of propaganda and spin "to create new concepts, new categories and new expressions that work both in Chinese and foreign contexts; and to present the Chinese story and the ideological and spiritual power behind it more fully and distinctly".
Xi gets to the heart of it with comments like, "It is important to strengthen the propaganda and interpretation of the CCP, and to help foreign peoples realize that the CCP is truly fighting for the happiness of the Chinese people, and understand why the CCP is capable [of success], why Marxism works and why socialism with Chinese characteristics is good."It was Xi who encouraged his minions to so forcefully project China's message on the world, an approach rapidly dubbed "wolf warrior diplomacy" in honor of 2015 and 2017 movies glorifying China's military. This bellicose diplomacy generated so much pushback and ill-feeling that even Xi must have become aware of it in his closeted halls of power.
Neican noted, "The combative, condescending and tone-deaf way that Chinese diplomats and state media have communicated with foreign audiences has been counterproductive diplomatically. Perhaps what it illustrates for us is the competing pressures on those doing the official telling of the 'China story'. On the one hand, they want to appear tough to a domestic audience, and on the other hand they want to build a positive image for China internationally."Now Xi is advocating a more refined approach, rather than the bullying one it tried earlier. Xi said, "It is important to promote Chinese culture to the world, to convey our message with culture, to spread our voice with culture, to educate people with culture, and to explain and promote to the world more excellent culture with Chinese characteristics that embody the Chinese spirit and contain Chinese wisdom."The Chinese leader added, although Xi would never admit to or be held liable for errors of judgement, "We should pay attention to control the tone, be open and confident as well as modest and humble, and strive to build a credible, lovable and respectable image of China."Such words are flowery, but they represent no substantial change in China's trajectory. Xi is still pursuing the same end - China's rise to the top of the global pack - and hubris is still the hallmark of the CCP. As Xi said, he wants China to "comprehensively elaborate our concept of development, civilization, security, human rights, ecology, international order and global governance".
This is a frightening specter. China is a police state with absolutely no freedom of speech. It is a place where ethnic minorities and religions are persecuted to the point of genocide, and which totally ignores international laws and norms. This is the system China wishes to proliferate and impose upon the rest of the world.
Specifically, Xi advocated people-to-people and cultural exchanges, utilizing high-level experts, international conferences/forums, foreign mainstream media, building teams of communication specialists, and researching and mastering the laws of international communication "to make our voices heard".
China is already doing so much to subjugate Western media and social media, including manipulating social media like Facebook and Twitter, and placing large advertorials and opinion pieces in Western newspapers. Furthermore, some foreigners, as "useful idiots", are coerced or seduced into talking up China's benign nature. Such is occurring in the Uighur debate, to ward off growing international criticism of China's imprisonment of more than a million Uighurs in Xinjiang. Such efforts will surely redouble.
All CCP bodies and cadres will incorporate this heightened international communication capacity. While there will be overlaps in their efforts, we must expect a deluge of propaganda in both traditional and social media such as Twitter and Facebook, platforms that are of course banned in China because people must not freely express opinions.
"We must adopt precise communication methods that are tailored to audiences in different regions, countries and groups," Xi ordered. Representation of the United Work Front Department all around the world will thus be important here in fine-tuning the party's message.
This all shows the CCP's intense hypocrisy - it wants only to present its side and does everything to silence opposing voices. Communism is terrified of its people, and thus relies on propaganda and fear to keep control. It must "consciously safeguard the dignified image of the party and the state," to use Xi's own words.
There was no trace of conciliation in Xi's speech. Beijing is not out to mend fences, but merely to utilize better-quality whitewash.
As is always the case with China, one must ignore its words unless they are backed up by action. There is no intention for China to alter its stance - including its military threat to and diplomatic ostracizing of Taiwan, its aggression along the Indian border, its territorial claims in the South China Sea, its ruthless subjugation of the Hong Kong psyche, its invective against those who advocate for the Uighurs, or its deflection of blame for spreading COVID-19 - but only to be more amenable and friendly.
What Xi is calling for is a more subtle and smiley mask for the CCP to wear. Its underlying motives, grandiose ambitions and brutal policies are unchanged. The fact is that China is belligerent, and Xi wants to do a better job of camouflaging that.
Xi does not need to woo voters in China's non-existent electorates. He has purged rivals real and imagined through his anti-corruption campaign, and he rules with cunning brutality. His sermon to the Political Bureau was merely an effort to halt the slide of China's reputation in a COVID-19-plagued world.
Xi's policies are not to blame, but merely the efforts of his underlings to sell and market them to those overseas. This is eerily reminiscent of what Xi is doing with the rewriting of history. For example, the turmoil launched by Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution is whitewashed because the CCP must appear infallible. The revised A Brief History of the Communist Party of China for 2020 says that Mao had "correct ideas", but that officials prevented them being thoroughly implemented, thus leading to internal turmoil.
Such narratives are dangerous, as a new Chinese generation grows up on the tainted milk of CCP indoctrination. Another strongman has already arisen, Xi, and China's youth are being taught to trust him implicitly.
Xi, in a visit to CCTV in 2016, said, "All the work by the party's media must reflect the party's will, safeguard the party's authority and safeguard the party's unity". Even popular television dramas can be canceled, with one banned for instance because it "unstintingly glamorized the emperor and his servants, while ignoring the glories of today's heroic models".
Domestic propaganda is total in China, where the most authoritative party-state media controlled at the ministerial level are Xinhua and the People's Daily. At the vice-ministerial level are CCTV, the Economic Daily (publication of the State Council), Seeking Truth and Guangming Daily (both CCP Central Committee), and Liberation Daily (Central Military Commission).
Lower, at the bureau-controlled level, are the Global Times (a tabloid of the People's Daily), Study Times (Central Party School) and Te Kung Pao (State Council Hong Kong SAR Liaison Office). Less authoritative, but still controlled at the division level, are the Southern Weekend, Beijing News and The Paper.
China maintains a vast army of netizens to monitor the internet. Furthermore, as part of an automated intelligent online commenting system, even lowly fifth-tier cities like Tieling can post fake comments on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at rates as high as 1,000 comments per second.
Informants are rife in schools (even primary schools) and universities, with tertiary informants allegedly paid anywhere from CNY20-200 depending on how important a piece of information is.
Chinese people have become more sophisticated about enduring political indoctrination, but there is little they can do in a system where every word and action, though not yet thought, is monitored by the state. Even sarcasm can lend netizens in hot water.
Neican observed, "Despite the importance it has assigned to discourse, Beijing has been astonishingly ineffective in recent years in promoting China's image. This is especially striking against the background of China's increasing international influence and role, and material power (as well as the billions sunk into amplifying its voice internationally)." Hence Xi's renewed propaganda effort. (ANI)