When Xi Jinping last month stressed the importance for the Chinese Communist Party of presenting to the world the image of a “credible, kind and respectable China”, the most avid observers rushed to speculate. a supposed change in the country’s diplomatic approach.
“It is necessary to unite and win the majority and constantly widen the circle of friends when it comes to international public opinion,” the head of the Chinese dictatorship told the top members of the party, who celebrated his 100 years this month. “You have to be careful to understand the tone, be open and confident, but also modest and humble.”
The speech, reproduced by the state press, indeed indicated, if not a complete change of itinerary, at least a slight adjustment of the coordinates. According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, Xi defended the promotion of multilateralism, to the detriment of the quest for hegemony, as a means of “shaping a more just and equitable international order and forging a new kind of relationship. international “.
For former diplomat Fausto Godoy, coordinator of the Center for Asian Studies and Business at ESPM, the Chinese CP is trying to expand its influence because it needs a new image as it approaches a level of presence international he never had.
“China has always had walls that no one could come close to. It has always been an empire, and the rest of the world has been a vassal. Now that the country is the main trading power in the globalized world, it must change the rhetoric, it has to have a different face, ”she said.
This change must go through the promotion of “soft power”. The concept, coined in the 1990s by political scientist and Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, defines that a country’s influence is not measured only by its military or economic capacity, but also by the empathy generated by the values it conveys.
This has been one of the priorities of the Chinese regime, and Xi made it very clear in 2014 during a meeting with the regime’s top. On the occasion, the official promised to promote “soft power”, spread the values of modern China and show the world the charm of the country’s culture. “China’s stories need to be told well, China’s voices well publicized, and China’s characteristics well explained,” Xi said.
His predecessor, Hu Jintao, at the 17th Chinese Communist Party National Congress in 2007, conditioned the “great rejuvenation of the nation” – the main slogan of the party – on “the blossoming of Chinese culture”. For Hu, China needs its “soft power” to extend its influence in the world.
In practice, this happens in several ways, some more straightforward than others. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, then-era leader Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) initiated what researchers refer to as the first phase of “panda diplomacy”, the name given to the practice of to give, lend or rent the bears which are one of the main Chinese symbols. The animals were sent to zoos in countries with which the CCP wanted to form strategic friendships.
With the rise of Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), gifts became loans in a capitalist leasing model based on financial transactions. In the current phase, sending pandas is associated with nations that provide China with valuable resources and symbolize the leadership’s desire to build “guanxi,” a Chinese term used to define deep trade relations characterized by trust. , reciprocity, loyalty and longevity.
In 2019, when sending panda couple Ru Yi and Ding Ding to a Moscow zoo as part of a joint research project, Xi Jinping called the Russian president a “best friend” and won, at less in public discourse, the sympathy of Vladimir Putin. “It is a sign of special respect for Russia. These animals are a symbol of China and we really appreciate such a gesture of friendship. When we talk about pandas, we always end with a smile on our face,” said the head of the Kremlin at the time.
In recent years, however, another type of “animal diplomacy” has been attributed to the Chinese authorities: that of the “warrior wolf”. The name refers to “Wolf Wolf 2” (2017), a film which achieved the greatest success in the history of Chinese cinema. The film tells the story of a former elite Chinese soldier who, wandering in unidentified African countries, plays a kind of Asian “Rambo” and helps fight mercenaries who want to overthrow the local government and protect a cure. a mysterious fatal disease which is decimating the population.
It could be an action movie like any other, but “Wolf Warrior 2” is loaded with symbolism. Besides the various appearances of the Chinese flag and the main plot that places China in a more active role outside of the Asian context, the film’s main villain is an American mercenary who, speaking in English, tries to relegate the protagonist to a position of inferiority.
“People like you will always be inferior to people like me, get used to it,” the American villain said to the Chinese protagonist, about to kill him. The “warrior wolf”, in turn, reacts and manages to reverse the scenario, stab his enemy to death before whispering in his ear, in Mandarin: “You have become history”.
Examples of “warrior wolf diplomacy” have become more abundant, even closer to the Brazilians. Chinese Ambassador to Brazil Yang Wanming has publicly and vehemently refuted rhetorical attacks on China, such as the insinuation by MP Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP) that Beijing may be withholding information about the pandemic of coronavirus and should be held responsible for the spread of the disease.
For Paulo Menechelli, who studies Chinese cultural diplomacy and “soft power” in a doctoral program at the University of Brasilia, the film and the eponymous posture of Chinese diplomats more besieged show a China which, while renouncing ambition to impose her way of life on other nations, she says loud and clear that she is no longer ready to tolerate disrespect.
“What is being said is that, unlike Western powers who are trying to impose their model on other countries, China is not doing it. narrative typical of US foreign policy. “
The change in storytelling is happening in other areas as well, but for Menechelli, it is through cultural products that China has the greatest potential to expand its image in the world. For that, it is not necessary to invent the wheel, since the formula to make the cinema a tool of “soft power” is well known and especially used for decades in the USA.
Another example is that of literature and audiovisual production. Last year, Netflix announced the serial adaptation of Chinese writer Liu Cixin’s award-winning sci-fi trilogy “The Three Bodies Problem.”
The story begins in 1960s China, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, a time of great social instability when Mao spurred a movement to outlaw anything considered a threat to the Communist Party. In the book, decisions made by a group of scientists during this time resonate over the next several decades and leave humanity vulnerable to alien invasions.
In addition to raising expectations of a mega-production – which involves the same creators of “Game of Thrones” and the production as the director of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” – the announcement of the adaptation has prompted a group of US Republican senators at The Call on Netflix have called for the series to be canceled on the grounds that the author is a propagator of the “dangerous propaganda” of the Chinese Communist Party.
While Chinese sci-fi fans fear the adaptation will end up distorting the work to conform to Western standards, any change that could generate some kind of negative interpretation for China risks missing the Communist Party’s filters – which would leave the series far from one of the largest audiovisual markets in the world.
Beyond cultural production, the regime – and Xi in particular – also has the ambition to promote Chinese soft power through football. According to an article by academic Emanuel Leite Júnior, whose doctoral research at the University of Aveiro (Portugal) studies the role of sport in China, the investment of the Communist Party in the popularization of football denotes “geopolitical aspirations” and “strengthening national identity and pride”.
The country where, according to FIFA, is the historical origin of football – a practice called “cuju” which dates back to the 2nd century BC – in 2016 launched a development plan to become a world power in this field. sport by 2050.
The “Chinese dream”, a term often used by Xi in his speeches and which symbolizes the political project of the Communist Party, also includes participation in the FIFA World Cup (the Chinese team won a place in one go in 2002 ), hosting the event (he made billions of investments in stadium construction for it) and, who knows, maybe one day be the big champion.