Posts Tagged ‘Soft Power’

[VIDEO] China’s Rush to Build Global Media Brands

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Al Jazeera’s excellent international media affairs program “The Listening Post” featured a report this week on China’s ambitions to create a global media brand with this year’s launch of CNC World.  I was featured in the report as one of three experts to share my thoughts on some of the challenges that Beijing and CNC will likely encounter with this endeavor.

One of the big mistakes that many international observers make about the Chinese and their global media ambitions is to frame the issue in purely, Western terms.  That is, if CNC World or CCTV News are not competitive with any of the major American or European media brands than somehow China’s media strategy is a failure.  While the Chinese no doubt have ambitions to create media properties with equal heft of CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera among others, I do not think that is their only benchmark of success.

There is growing evidence that networks like CNC may not be targeting already competitive markets in North America or Europe but instead focusing their energy on emerging ‘Southern’ markets in Africa, South Asia and elsewhere. So it is critical to look at this issue in considerably broader terms than most Americans and European media watchers are accustomed.

The barriers to entry in the mature media markets in the developed world are simply too high for networks like CNC to viable without billions of dollars to invest in marketing and distribution.  By contrast, it is considerably cheaper for the Chinese to gain traction in less developed markets where it will not only be cheaper to penetrate but their product will likely receive a much better reception.

[AUDIO] China in Africa podcast: The Sino-U.S. Soft Power Showdown

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

China in Africa Podcast: The Sino-U.S. Soft Power Showdown

Travel to almost any African capital and even before you make it from the airport to downtown there is a very high likelihood you will pass a Chinese construction project along the way.  From the new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi to the main road connecting Kinshasa’s N’Djili Airport to the city center, the Chinese construction boom is immediately evident.

Simply put, the magnitude of China’s construction drive in Africa is so vast that only the rapid industrialization of the Chinese economy itself and the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II can compare in scale.

All this construction is a central component of Beijing’s foreign policy agenda where it builds roads, dams, hospitals and other badly needed infrastructure in developing countries in exchange for vital natural resources.  On the surface, this arrangement has all the hallmarks of pure mercantilism but to leave it at that overlooks critical subtleties that are now beginning to sway the balance of international influence across the continent.

In a recent article for the Asian affairs website “The Diplomat,” military affairs journalist David Axe details how Chinese construction projects are opening a new front in Beijing’s increasingly ambitious global soft power agenda.    China, he writes, is simultaneously competing for influence with the established foreign powers in Africa while copying Western diplomatic tactics.

“Where the U.S. sends soldiers, the Chinese build roads.  Their approach [to soft power diplomacy] could not be farther apart.” – Military Affairs Journalist, David Axe

Earlier this year, Axe spent two months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he covered a U.S. military joint training operation with the Congolese armed forces.  To get from his hotel to the training grounds, Axe and the U.S. troops drove along Boulevard 30 Juin, Kinshasa’s main thoroughfare that was recently re-paved and widened by the Chinese.  That road, Axe realized, had come to represent the stark differences in how Beijing is engaging with countries like the DRC and Washington’s growing reliance on its military:

“That China and the United States are in a race to gain sway over countries possessing vital natural resources, not only in Africa but across the developing world, is hardly news. But the scene in Kinshasa—US troops speeding down a Chinese-built road—underscores the differing strategies Washington and Beijing have tended to pursue. While it has fallen on the US military to lead the country’s forays into Congo and other mineral-rich nations, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan, China has traditionally preferred underwriting infrastructure projects.”

In addition to the public perception benefits associated with building infrastructure in many of the world’s poorest countries, Beijing is also turning to its military forces as another tool in its soft power diplomacy kit, according to Axe.  The deployment of Chinese naval forces off the coast of East Africa to take part in multi-national anti-piracy operations along with the launch of the new hospital ship “866” are two recent examples that Axe highlights to demonstrate how the Peoples Liberation Army (and navy — the PLAN) are playing an important role to shape African perceptions of the Chinese.

While media outlets like Xinhua and CCTV along with educational organizations such as the Confucius Institutes have traditionally been the centerpiece of China’s public diplomacy initiatives in Africa, it appears that Beijing may have a much broader soft power agenda that also includes all of those roads and bridges as well.

The interview with David Axe and other ‘China in Africa’ podcasts are all available on iTunes.  Click here for more information.

[AUDIO] The China in Africa podcast: getting to know each other

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

China’s embrace of Africa has produced some stunning statistics.  The numbers look great pretty much across the board. From trade volumes to foreign investment to the growing popularity of Chinese ministerial junkets, the data all looks great.  No, in fact, it’s fantastic.  But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  While money, goods and services are flowing back and forth at unprecedented levels, a deeper question persists: how well do these two people actually know each other?  For some folks, it may seem rather trivial.  After all, if the checks cash, who cares, right?

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that money alone will determine China’s long-term success in Africa.  In fact, what they’ve accomplished over the past 5 years is really just the easy part.  Throwing piles of cash around the continent is a sure way to buy companionship, but friendship and trust, especially in Africa, require more than just money.

Already, there have been hints of what’s to come if Beijing underestimates the importance of developing an effective soft-power agenda in Africa.   Anti-Chinese policies enacted in Namibia earlier this year and rising hostility to Chinese labor migrants in Angola are now but two points on a graph, but could quickly transform into a trend if left unattended.  Instead, it will be critical for the Beijing to help facilitate Africans and Chinese at EVERY LEVEL of society to get to know one another.

A model of what that kind of engagement looks like can be found in Cape Town, South Africa in the offices Fahamu.  This non-profit pan-African activist and publishing organization recently led a small group of African journalists on a trip to Beijing to learn more about China and the Chinese.  Fahamu’s Emerging Powers Program Research Director, Sanusha Naidu, led the team on their visit to China where they met with students, intellectuals and other journalists among others.  Naidu said although the delegation was overwhelmed with China’s development and how much the country had achieved in such a short time, not all were convinced that China and Africa’s long term interests are aligned.  “There was a cautious optimism,” she said.

China still has time to ease those apprehensions, but it must get to work right away.

[AUDIO] In the Battle for Influence in Africa, China Turns to Agriculture

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Xie Yajing is among the legions of faceless Chinese officials who are little known outside of their own bureaucracies.  Despite his prominence as a senior Chinese commercial counselor for Africa and West Asia, not a single image of Xie appears in a Google image search of her name (quite an accomplishment, really, in this day and age).  Her low profile aside, Xie is among the leaders of China’s intensifying battle for influence in Africa between Beijing and the West.   In a recent announcement that went entirely unnoticed by the international media, Xie unveiled a bold initiative that some experts believe could represent a defining turn in Sino-African relations. (more…)