Even as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is projecting hard power across the
four corners of the earth, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is mapping out a
multi-pronged strategy to publicize globally the apparent viability of the
The administration of President Hu Jintao is spending around 45 billion yuan
(US$6.58 billion) to boost what party insiders call "overseas propaganda" (waixuan
gongzuo). Prominent state media including CCTV and Xinhua news agency
will vastly enhance programs and news feeds in different languages for Western
and Asian audiences, and an English news channel modeled on al-Jazeera is set
to let the world get the Chinese take on issues and events ranging from
politics and finance to culture and religion.
Reports by the Hong Kong and Western media last week said
that CCTV, Xinhua and the CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily could each receive
up to 15 billion yuan for ambitious schemes geared toward enhancing China's
international influence. CCTV, which opened French and Spanish channels before
last summer's Beijing Olympic Games, is expected to offer services in Russian
and Arabic later this year.
Xinhua, which has news bureaus in dozens of major cities around the globe, is
reportedly planning to establish a 24-hour English news channel to compete with
CNN and BBC. In the run-up to the Olympics, Chinese media - and nationalist
Chinese youth - had vehemently denounced CNN and other Western news
organizations for distorting the "true picture" of Chinese policies regarding
sensitive areas such as Tibet and human rights. The Global Times, which is an
offshoot of the People's Daily, is readying an English edition in the near
future. This would become China's third English-language newspaper.
As with major efforts in other arenas, this aggressive projection of soft power
is initiated by a marathon of speeches by CCP senior cadres. Earlier this
month, CCP Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun told officials
attending a national conference on propaganda and ideology that they must
"vigorously sing the praises of the achievements of the CCP, socialism, the
reform policy, and [the glories of] the great motherland".
Li called for "assiduous efforts to augment the soft power of Chinese culture,
and to further elevate our national image". Wang Chen, who heads the party's
overseas propaganda division, added that media and cultural units should beef
up their "capacity to broadcast, to positively influence international public
opinion and to establish a good image for our nation".
"We must strive to set up a top-line global media arm that covers the entire
world and which is multi-lingual, enjoys a large viewership, has a large volume
of information and is strongly influential," Wang indicated.
Plans to extend the global reach of Chinese norms - and the Chinese model of
development - complements PLA gambits such as sending naval vessels to the Gulf
of Aden and building aircraft carriers and other state-of-the-art hardware.
This "Great Leap Outward" of Chinese soft power may also be an effort to
exploit the precipitous drop in the esteem of American-style, laissez-faire
capitalism in the wake of the financial tsunami. While the Chinese economy has
also been hurt particularly due to a shrinkage of exports to the United States
and the European Union, the Hu leadership is convinced that the sorry state of
the American model has thrown into sharp relief the superiority of the Chinese
way of doing things.
According to a recent commentary by Xinhua, the results of 30 years of Chinese
reform have amounted to "the realization of innovation and creativity on a
gargantuan scale ... nothing less than an epic poem about expeditious
"Not only ordinary people but the media and academia in China and abroad have
paid close attention to 'the China miracle' or 'the China model'," proclaimed
the party mouthpiece.
Similar sentiments are being echoed by Beijing's big-name scholars. For Peking
University political scientist Yu Keping, the China model has "enriched our
knowledge about the laws and paths toward social development and promoted the
multi-pronged development of human civilization in the age of globalization".
Yu, who sometimes advises President Hu on political issues, said that the
Chinese approach carried a special significance for developing countries
because "both the 'East Asian model' and the 'Latin American model' have lost
their effectiveness in recent years".
According to Central Party School Professor Zhao Yao, the China model is worth
maximum exposure because "it has saved the world socialist movement". "Through
the reform and open door policy of China, new vistas have been opened up for
socialism," Zhao noted.
There is little question that particularly since most private and
semi-governmental international news and cultural organizations are downsizing
due to harsh economic realities, China's multi-billion yuan propaganda putsch
will catch eyeballs galore. Whether the worldwide audience will buy the product
is another question. A just-released survey by the Chinese Academy of Sciences
points out that based on data up to 2005, the influence of Chinese culture is
ranked seventh in the world, behind that of the United States, Germany,
Britain, France, Italy and Spain - and CCP cadres and experts seem convinced
that Chinese soft power will mushroom in the wake of the proliferation of
Dong Manyuan, a senior researcher at the China Institute of International
Studies (a Chinese Foreign Ministry think-tank), believes Chinese soft power is
different from - and potentially more appealing than - Western brands because
the former exults a wholesome sense of "peace and harmony".
"Characteristics of Chinese soft power include respect for heterogeneity of
world [cultures], openness and tolerance, friendliness and inclusiveness ...
respect for politeness and benevolence," according to Dong.
However, detractors of the "China model", including the Chinese approach to
overseas propaganda, have cited instances where Chinese leaders - and censors -
have failed to demonstrate openness, tolerance or inclusiveness. In a speech
late last year summarizing the achievement of 30 years of reform, which
underpins the apparent virility of the country's economy and culture, President
Hu took an uncompromising stance while underscoring the imperative of cleaving
to Marxist orthodoxy.
The supremo vowed that the CCP would uphold the "Four Cardinal Principles" of
stern party control and "democratic proletarian dictatorship". Hu said that the
CCP would do whatever it takes to "boost its ability to guard against changes
[to a non-socialist system] and to withstand risks" such as socio-political
instability. And he delivered a stern warning to liberal cadres who favor a
faster pace of political reform as well as the adoption of "universal values"
such as elections and rule of law.
Hu warned that the leadership "will never take the deviant path of changing the
flag and standard [of the party]". Hu's harsh rhetoric would seem to be at odds
with the image of a benevolent, harmonious and tolerant China that the party's
legions of publicists are so keen to project.
In an article on the difficulties facing the global marketing of Chinese values
and culture, Tsinghua University media scholar Li Xiguang noted that "the soft
power of a country manifests itself in whether it has the power to define and
interpret 'universal values' such as democracy, freedom and human rights". Li
pointed out that in order to enhance the attractiveness of "socialism with
Chinese characteristics", "we must let the whole world hear the stories that
Chinese citizens have to tell about their democracy, liberty, human rights and
rule of law".
The problem, of course, is that intellectuals bold enough to air their views on
democracy and political reform have been harassed if not incarcerated by the
authorities. This is true of the dozens of well-known writers and professors
who earlier this month signed a manifesto called Charter 08, which asked the
CCP leadership to do nothing more than letting Chinese enjoy civil rights
enshrined in United Nations covenants.
Moreover, even though state media are all guns blazing in expanding their
coverage and broadcasts overseas, the Department of Propaganda and other
departments have tightened their grip on Chinese publications and websites that
have apparently run afoul of the censors. A just-released Human Rights Watch
World Report pointed out that at least 26 Chinese journalists remain in prison.
"The Chinese government continues to strictly control journalists, and
sanctions individuals and print and online media which fail to comply with
extremely restrictive but unpredictably enforced laws and regulations," the
report said . Since late last year, seven departments including the Public
Security Ministry and the State Council Information Office have closed down
more than 726 websites that are said to be pornographic. Yet famous blogger
Wang Junxiu said that the crackdown could be more about taming the Chinese
Internet than eradicating smut. Wang, a Charter 08 signatory, indicated that
authorities wanted to "tighten up [the media] in response to all the sensitive
dates in 2009" such as the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square
Doubts have also been raised by Chinese intellectuals about the quality - and
integrity - of state media including CCTV. Earlier this month, 22 writers and
lawyers started a Internet-based movement asking Chinese nationwide to stop
watching the station. The campaign, entitled "Say no to CCTV, say no to
brainwashing," accused its news programs of "focusing only on bright side"
while reporting on domestic affairs, and doing the opposite about events in
The petitioners also faulted the network for running too many historical dramas
whose message was that citizens should profess undying loyalty to the emperor.
So far, neither CCTV nor other Chinese media have reported on this
unprecedented challenge to the CCP media establishment. When asked by Hong Kong
reporters to comment on the issue, a CCTV spokesman said only that his
organization and its programs were "well-liked by the great majority of
Unless these and other questions about censorship and brainwashing are answered
satisfactorily, however, China's state media, no matter how well-endowed
financially, can hardly win a global following, let alone help Beijing develop
soft power that is commensurate with that of a quasi-superpower.
1. World Report 2009, Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org/en/node/79301.
Willy Wo-Lap Lam is a Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation. He is
the author of five books on China, including the recently published Chinese
Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges.
(This article first appeared in The Jamestown
Foundation. Used with permission.) (Copyright 2009 The Jamestown