In one of the worst public relations challenges since Xi Jinping was discovered to bear a striking resemblance to Winnie the Pooh, China’s head honcho felt a bit snubbed this week after hearing the results of a Pew survey. It seems that despite the billions of dollars China spends projecting its soft power around the world, by donating to African dictators and producing English-language CCTV programs that no one watches, Xi has failed to make a positive impression on people around the world.
Then again, more than 90% of Chinese have confidence in their leader, so maybe the rest of the world was just confused. (Or maybe they weren’t reading People’s Daily, the Party’s mouthpiece.)
Still, Xi feels the need for attention overseas as well as at home. This week he rolled out a new diplomatic push in the South China Seas, moving a rig away from the disputed Paracel Islands a full month ahead of schedule. While previous Chinese policy in the South China Sea had relied on old standards such as vaguely threatening the US and intimidating oil companies who had nothing to do with the dispute, this represents a new, warm face for Chinese diplomacy.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dealing With Those Annoying Outsiders said the decision was made in accordance with commercial conditions only and had “no relation to any outside factor” (especially not pressure from the US or anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam). But analysts believe the decision actually came out of Xi’s deep-rooted need for approval – a need that was further manifested in his eagerness to offer up Shanghai as the site for a new Brics development bank. After all, what could endear the international public to Xi and China more than billions of dollars in no-strings-attached loans and a play to grab control of a global institution?
In yet another promising sign for the president’s new public relations campaign, the Party will even allow British GSK investigator Peter Humphrey and his American wife, Yu Yingzeng, to be tried in public. The move will be sure to draw the support of human rights activists as well as those who have just been looking for some good, old-fashioned entertainment since China banned Big Bang Theory in April. Rumors have it that HBO is bidding for screening rights to show abroad.
But Beijing drew the line at allowing wealthy Chinese to transfer their money overseas using a program that the government itself approved. It also widened the corruption crackdown to so-called naked officials who send their families to live abroad. If there’s one thing Xi can’t stand, its people finding out that anyone who has money doesn’t actually want to live in China. If the news got out – well, that would be a public relations disaster even the cuddly-wuddly Xi himself couldn’t avert.