Feel my soft power
“Soft power” is often bandied about in conversations about Chinese foreign relations, but what exactly is it? Much like how the US Supreme Court views adjudicates hardcore pornography, we know it when we see it. It’s when Norway dispatches crack peace agents, the US exports Metallica and the kid next door brandishes a disturbingly powerful nerf gun. This week it was China’s turn to unleash its soft power fury like a giant teddy bear assaulting an innocent passersby at a honey exhibition. State-backed CCTV descended on the sleepy village of Washington, DC to blast an unsuspecting Chris Matthews with “The Heat” (last-minute name change from “In Heat”), its English-language political news special. The topic du jour was Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who was busily kissing farm babies in Iowa in a bid to distract locals from his real mission: hustling cattle onto his private jet, thanks to his key to every lock in the city. That’s real progress on the charm front, but sometimes the love just ain’t enough – like when New Zealand grumpily blocked a Chinese bid for its dairy farms. So China is quietly doubling its defense spending by 2015, according to one report, and tripling Xi’s quota for chickens to be hustled back to China.
Poking around under the rug in China is usually a pretty rewarding business, and we’re not talking about loose change. Despite China’s many-splendored economic evolutions, the country remains rife with fraud and corruption, as the latest survey results from Shanghai’s American Chamber of Commerce attest: 61% of AmCham’s Shanghai members cited corruption and fraud as a challenge in operating in China in 2011. The US decided to poke its nose under a few of China’s bulgier rugs this week, first investigating whether ex-employees in China of Avon had paid bribes to government officials. Well… probably: An internal audit had reportedly found hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable payments, entertainment and missing lipsticks in 2005. The US Securities & Exchange Commission launched its own investigation, poking into donations made by Wynn Macau to a list of charities including “Save Stanley Ho’s children” and “wad-of-Greenpeace.” Last in the line-up was Wu Ying, a 31-year-old billionaire from Wenzhou who may face the death penalty, allegedly due to some vindictive government officials she implicated during police investigations. In these suspicious times, the best recourse for those with a sordid past seems to be to stay home and avoid long-distance phone calls. Case in point, Shanda: Now Muddy Waters will never know what was lurking under that rug.