Ouch, your soft power is poking me
For all the Western media’s love of stories about rich Chinese buyers becoming our new corporate overlords, there was very little outrage over Bright Food’s recent acquisition of Weetabix. It could be that no one will really miss those little British blocks of roughage, or, as author Paul French writes in China Economic Review’s June issue, that breakfast cereal is just not a sector to be defended patriotically. However, the recent news that Chinese movie theater chain Wanda bought America’s AMC gave some people more pause. Movie theaters – couldn’t that be dangerous? Modern warfare is all about hearts and minds, is it not? Perhaps we will see more films in the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Propaganda… Or maybe we won’t “see” anything at all – just unconsciously chow down subliminal messages instilling us with love for our new culinary overlord, Master Kong, along with our artificial buttered popcorn (mm… popcorn).
Unfortunately for Master Kong and his close-knit Confucian family, this scenario seems just a tad far-fetched. Motivation aside, China’s soft power strategy is just not sophisticated enough for a subliminal take-over of America’s hearts and minds. Some say this is because many Chinese people have a limited understanding of how the rest of the world views them – true, but that’s never held back the US before. More likely, the soft power dearth stems from the fact that official Chinese media isn’t used to having to win any hearts and minds at all, or really impress anyone – as events this week made clear. (“Oh, you don’t like being called a shrew? Silly me.”) Much of China’s creative art and film is labeled too “inappropriate” for airwaves, while CCTV receives a US$6 billion injection to venture into markets with little demand for state perspectives disguised as journalism. As long as that situation persists, China’s soft power is likely to be a hard sell.
Deceived by Ewan McGregor (again)
“Deception” is a term loaded with baggage. It reminds us of the 2008 movie “Deception” starring has-been actor Ewan McGregor – a physically painful cinematic experience. Or the Dan Brown novel “Deception Point,” which we read after “The Da Vinci Code” but didn’t contain enough end-of-chapter-cliffhangers to disguise how awful the man’s actual writing is. Or the erotic/romance novella “Heart of Deception,” which we assigned to the ninth-grade lit class thinking it was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” but are now too proud to back down. No doubt the Ontario Securities Commission had all these things in mind when it accused Sino-Forest of “deceitful and dishonest courses of conduct,” prompting bondholders in the audience to gasp and faint (Victorian-style) in dismay at this unexpected verdict on a morally upstanding young company. And while the US Pentagon didn’t exactly accuse China of deception, it did accuse “Chinese actors” of spying on American companies. “A substantial number [of cyber espionage attempts] have been traced to the Beijing Film Academy, and the Central Academy of Drama,” said David Helvey, acting assistant secretary for defense. For its part, China retorted that the Pentagon was being mean, in turn accusing Ewan McGregor of cyber-espionage against Chinese military installations in Fujian province. McGregor denied the allegations, insisting he is working full-time on his next, probably awful movie.