Not long ago, Canada’s leading national daily, the Globe and Mail, published an essay weighing the merits of international humanitarian intervention in which the efforts of China and Russia on the international arena were dismissed as being simply self-serving.
The essay was not about China. It was an examination of whether there is a viable argument to be made for countries sticking their noses and guns into affairs taking place within foreign borders. It was written by Doug Sanders, now a London-based correspondent.
His dismissal of China’s efforts, however, ignored the increasingly important role the country is playing in the international humanitarian arena. Beijing has rewritten the rules of aid, sending cash all over the world. Much of this money is promised in exchange for access to natural resources but just as often simply as a way to build up international support, particularly developing nations.
It is all part of China’s push to develop its soft power, a push that is becoming stronger in tandem with the country’s economic expansion.
Joshua Kurlantzick explores China’s emerging influence around the world in Charm Offensive, a clear and concise look at how the country is leveraging its economic might to secure greater international influence.
Amongst other things, he finds that Beijing is not only cutting deals for its own subsistence but also training more people from around the world in Chinese language and culture. Significantly, this is taking place at a time when the US is closing in on itself and becoming less willing to open its borders to foreigners.
Kurlantzick devotes a fair amount of space to the lack of understanding of China around the world but believes that it is a passing phenomenon. In the last three decades, the country’s foreign policy has developed considerably. What started out as baby steps in the 1980s has become huge strides into the unknown, with foreign money flooding in and ever more domestic money flowing out.
This full-court press includes everything from cheap money for infrastructure projects to scholarships for students from developing countries. There is also the spread of Confucius Institutes, which promote Chinese language and culture abroad, strong support for emerging governments, and hassle-free access to business leaders.
It is worth noting that, in making these efforts, China has been careful to not take stances that defy any status quo, although there is now evidence that this too is changing. China has already sent armed officers to participate in UN-sponsored policing action and has taken a more active role in global diplomatic discussion.
All this begs the question as to where China’s leadership push will end. If familiarity breeds contempt, or at least a healthy amount of skepticism, then China’s increased involvement could be jeopardized simply through overkill.
Kurlantzick argues that part of America’s declining influence can be blamed on people being more aware of the US than any other country. When debacles such as the lack of help for the victims of hurricane Katrina occur, everyone knows about it and analyzes it.
Kurlantzick’s views on how the international influence game with play out are worth reading. His book is not so much about China as about China from the outside – an examination of how the country is perceived around the world.
He concludes that, despite the undeniable rise in the country’s international profile, China is still largely misunderstood – few not directly involved know what makes the country run or what kind of pressures its leaders face.
With increased interaction, though, the upward popularity curve will level out but it may take some time.
Hong Kong bound
The economy of Hong Kong is something of a mystery for the uninitiated. Regardless of what measure is used, it is still among the most open in the world and has remained open for business despite sovereignty returning to China in 1997.
In his recently released Hands On or Hands Off: The Nature and Process of Economic Policy in Hong Kong, Tony Latter looks at why and how the Hong Kong economy works.
Latter has a longstanding interest in the Special Administrative Region. Back in 1982 he took a job as deputy secretary for monetary affairs and has been involved with the city ever since, most recently as a research fellow at the Hong Kong Institute of Economics and Business Strategy.
Hands On or Hands Off is written in practical and unexpectedly easy to follow prose much like its sister title, Hong Kong Money: The History, Logic and Operation of the Currency Peg. Written by the same author and published almost simultaneously, this second book offers insights into the impact of the long-existing tie up of the city’s currency with the US dollar.
Although there is little new or surprising information, both books are good refreshers or quick introductory courses to workings of the city’s economy.
Excerpt from Charm Offensive: Mr Popular
Eventually, China’s warm image may recede. One reason why the United States evokes such negative feelings in some countries is that many foreigners now feel they know the United States intimately. In places like Latin America, countries have two hundreds years of experience with the United States acting like a great power; even in Asia the United States has projected its power at least since the Second World War. Leaders and average citizens know America well, and in places like Latin America, some have come to associate the United States with interventions that backfired, causing economic and political misery. The fact that the international media focus on the United States further exposes America’s faults to the world, like the Hurricane Katrina debacle or the controversy over the 2000 presidential election. “The image of the United States as a promised land – distant, exotic and glamorous – has faded in the onslaught of familiarity with U.S. products, the media-portrayed image of America, and the vast numbers of people who traveled there,” notes a leading US business journal…
By contrast, for countries outside Asia, China remains something of a blank slate. After 1979 China retreated from the world and did not attempt to exert power across the globe, so a generation of African and Latin American policy makers had little experience with a powerful China. Though the international media cover China, it does not attract the kind of close attention that the United States draws. As a result, some opinion leaders can believe that China, unlike other major powers, will [not] pressure other nations to do what Beijing wants. They can believe that China’s rise will truly be an uncomplicated “win-win,” an opportunity but not a threat.