China’s soft approach to global power

The elevation of President Xi Jinping’s status at last week’s Communist Party of China (CCP) congress marks a political turning point for China. It could also redefine the balance of global power and influence over coming decades.

Oct 30, 2017
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As corporate leaders re-assess their international strategies they might do well to re-envisage risks and opportunities resulting from a more authoritarian and assertive China. ‘The west must be alert to Beijing exporting an authoritarian model’ writes the FT, as ‘China tilts back towards a cult of personality.’  President Xi’s ‘has defined himself in opposition to the “hegemonic” west,’ and for the first time in decades, ‘put forward China’s autocratic system as a model for other countries.’ It seems that China will disprove a long-held western maxim that countries democratise as they get richer.

As well as ‘building a vast and powerful military,’ says the FT, China is ‘also intent on enhancing China’s soft power,’ whether this is through football and entertainment or Confucius Institutesthat now operate in more than 500 universities worldwide. These claim to satisfy overseas demand for learning Chinese, and offer language and cultural classes that earn students credits towards a degree. But they are directly administered by Beijing, and stand accused of subverting academic freedom, particularly regarding Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen, especially in cash-strapped colleges. Much of China’s movement to ‘charm, co-opt or attack well-defined groups and individuals’ is being run through the so-called United Front Work Department,  according to FT’s China editors.

But what exactly is China’s global role to be? Mr Xi has previously spoken about a new parity in China-US relations, especially regarding rules of international institutions. This suggests greater international policy activism, in business as well as politics.

Paul Lewis

Editorial director, Headspring

Paul Lewis is a writer and editor, specialising in business, management, economics and politics.