Beijing is expanding efforts to enhance its soft power. Events at home illustrate why such moves are headed for trouble.
In a little noticed event on New Year’s Day, China inaugurated its first non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of soft power—China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA). Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended and spoke at the unveiling ceremony for the group, which elected as its president Li Zhaoxing, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress. Addressing the group after the vote, Li told its members that the CPDA would mobilize and coordinate “social resources and civilian efforts” towards the goal of "promoting China's soft power."
In some ways, China’s desire to strengthen its soft power capabilities seems entirely logical. After all, ancient Chinese leaders masterfully wielded soft power. And as China’s economic power has risen in recent years, the Chinese government has adopted various measures to enhance China’s soft power, such as establishing global news services (most recently, China Daily’s Africa Weekly) and Confucius Institutes across the world. Outside of China some have spoken of a Beijing Consensus that is supposedly supplementing the Washington Consensus in terms of the most favored political-economic model.
Yet even as China inaugurated its first organization dedicated to enhancing Beijing’s soft power, a number of disparate events in China were illustrating why the CCP’s charm offensive is doomed to fail.
For example, in recent weeks the Chinese government has redoubled its efforts to censor the internet. After social media users in China exposed a series of scandals involving low-level government officials, the CCP adopted new regulations that require internet service providers to quickly delete “illegal” posts and turn over the evidence to government officials. Additionally, after trying to require citizens to use their real names on social media sites like Weibo, the new regulations require citizens to use their real identities when signing up with an internet provider. More secretly, according to many inside China, authorities have been strengthening the great firewall to prevent users from employing various methods in order to gain access to a growing number of sites that are banned.