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Xi Jinping wants China to learn how to make friends and influence people.
Speaking at a study session for the Communist Party’s top leadership on Monday, the Chinese President said it was important for the country to tell its story in a positive way, presenting the image of a “credible, lovable, and respectable China,” according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
He added that the Party’s propaganda organizations need to make it clear to the world that Beijing wants “nothing but the Chinese people’s well-being.”
Xi’s vision makes sense. Since taking power in 2012, he has pushed for China to take a bigger role in global affairs, but aside from Russia and Pakistan, China has few strong diplomatic relationships with major world powers.
What Xi didn’t say was that his country currently has a big image problem in many parts of the world. A Pew Research report from late 2020 found that of 14 countries surveyed across Europe, North America and East Asia, every one had a majority negative view of China.
Part of Beijing’s image problem comes from the Covid-19 pandemic, and allegations the government covered up the original outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019, potentially worsening the global spread of the virus.
But opinions of China were worsening even before the pandemic – and part of that is down to the country’s embrace of “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
Named after a series of nationalistic Chinese action films, this jingoistic foreign policy first began to take shape in 2019 when top diplomats began aggressively calling out alleged slights against China in press conferences or on social media.
In July 2019, Zhao Lijian, then a counselor at the Chinese embassy in Pakistan, began to condemn what he saw as the United States’ hypocrisy over human rights, pointing out Washington’s own problems with racism, income inequality and gun violence.
Zhao’s full-throated defense of China was controversial. But it got him a promotion to Foreign Ministry spokesman and other Chinese diplomats started to mirror him.
There have been reports of unease over the wolf warriors inside China’s diplomatic community, but for now, there is no sign that Zhao or his colleagues being reined in, especially not when their approach is so popular with domestic audiences.
After top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi told his US counterparts in March that Washington “does not have the qualification to speak to China,” his catchphrase was quickly printed on T-shirts sold in Beijing and other cities.
Xi might want China to extend the hand of friendship to the world, but with the wolf warriors of the Foreign Ministry howling at his back, many countries might be reticent to take the chance.
- A huge cleanup operation was underway for a sixth day in Sri Lanka after a container ship laden with chemicals caught fire 12 days ago, unleashing one of the worst ecological disasters in the country’s history.
- Vietnam’s health ministry has detected a suspected new coronavirus variant which appears to be a hybrid of two highly transmissible strains.
- Belgium is recalling its ambassador to South Korea following an incident in which his wife was recorded striking a woman in Seoul.
- Malaysia’s air force scrambled fighter jets on Monday after 16 Chinese military aircraft flew into its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The business of China: Why a strong yuan is risky
China’s yuan is the strongest it’s been in three years.
The yuan was last trading 6.382 per US dollar. That’s the strongest level since May 2018, a boost attributable in part to the country’s economic recovery and a weaker US dollar.
Chaoping Zhu, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, said in a Wednesday research note that the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has been more tolerant of movement in the value of the yuan over the last year – it’s risen some 10%. He added that the market expects the central bank – which allows the currency to trade every day within a narrow “band” – can withstand a stronger yuan as a way to counter the costs of commodities, like steel and other building materials, which are necessary for China’s ambitious infrastructure plans.
But the appreciation of the yuan poses a dilemma for Beijing, and may now serve as a lesson in how China tries to control everything in its economy from moving too quickly.
A stronger currency makes exports less competitive, and hurts domestic producers that send goods overseas. A yuan that rises in value too fast could also threaten financial stability, since it creates the risk that too much speculative money could flow into the country – fueling local asset bubbles or causing inflation.
Wary of the rapid appreciation, authorities have already been advising caution, saying the yuan shouldn’t be used as a tool to control the cost of imports. Liu Guoqiang, vice governor of the PBOC, said last week that the central bank wants to keep the yuan “basically stable.” And on Monday, the PBOC said it would raise the reserve requirement ratio for foreign exchange deposits by 2 percentage points to 7%, the first hike in 14 years. The increase will force banks to deposit more foreign exchange assets, putting downward pressure on the yuan.
It’s a small move in the grand scheme of things, but it still sent out a strong signal to the market that policymakers just aren’t comfortable with how fast the yuan is rising in value.
It could also mean that more measures may come along to slow its pace.
– By Laura He
Chinese blogger jailed for ‘defaming martyrs’
In China, disputing the official narrative can come with a heavy price.
On Monday, a popular Chinese blogger who questioned the official death toll of China’s border clash with India last year was sentenced to 8 months in jail – a harsh punishment that serves as a warning to the rest of the country.
Qiu Ziming, 38, is the first person to be jailed under the crime of “defamation of heroes and martyrs.” The offense was added to China’s criminal law in an amendment that went into effect in March.
A court in the eastern city of Nanjing ruled that Qiu had “slandered” China’s border troops and “infringed the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs” in two posts on social media site Weibo, on which Qiu had 2.5 million fans.
The posts, published in February, centered on last June’s bloody clash between China and India along the disputed Galwan Valley in the Himalayas. New Delhi said at least 20 Indian soldiers died, while Beijing remained silent on the death toll for months. In February, the Chinese military finally revealed that four Chinese soldiers were killed.
Commenting on Weibo, Qiu suggested that the PLA’s actual death toll might be higher than the official count, and that a commander survived because he was the highest-ranking officer at the scene.
Hours later, Qiu was detained, and his Weibo account was shut down. At least five other people were also detained for “defaming” the dead Chinese soldiers.
On Monday, the court also ordered Qiu to apologize publicly within 10 days through major domestic portals and state media. He had already made a televised confession on state broadcaster CCTV in March. “I feel extremely ashamed of myself, and I’m very sorry,” he said then.
Quoted and noted
“The first batch of vaccines to be supplied to Covax rolled off the production line today, showing China’s commitment to offering vaccines as global public products.” – Chinese ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced on Tuesday, hours before the World Health Organization (WHO) approved China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. So far, two Chinese-made Covid vaccines have been endorsed by the WHO, which allows them to be distributed by COVAX, a WHO-backed initiative to ensure equitable global access of coronavirus vaccines.
Photo of the day
More kids welcomed: Children across China celebrated International Children’s Day on Tuesday, a day after the Chinese government announced that it would allow all married couples to have three children to slow the nation’s declining birthrate.