Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teaching the World a Lesson


In "China Wages Classroom Struggle to Win Friends in Africa," on November 20, the Times' Howard French described the PRC's long-term focus on winning sub-Saharan hearts and minds:

BEIJING—As the teacher, a career Chinese diplomat, spoke, his class of African diplomats scribbled furiously.

At the United Nations, China opposed the United States invasion of Iraq and has defended the right of Iran and other developing countries to use civilian nuclear power, said the teacher, Yuan Shibin. China, he noted pointedly, swept aside American objections to making an African the secretary general.

There was nothing subtle about this message, which will be repeatedly hammered home to the African diplomats during their three month, all-expenses paid stay at the Foreign Affairs University here. "China will always protect its own interests as well as those of other developing countries," Mr. Yuan said. By contrast, "U.S. national interests are not often in conformity with those of other nations, including China."

The classes are one element in a campaign by Beijing to win friends around the world and pry developing nations out of the United States' sphere of influence. Africa, with its immense oil and mineral wealth and numerous United Nations votes, lies at the heart of that effort.


China's appeal to Africa and much of the third world centers on the idea that nations will be drawn to an emerging superpower that does not lecture them about democracy and human rights or interfere in what Beijing considers "internal affairs."

French adds that China's support for liberation movements following World War II, plus its "remarkable quarter century of economic growth," position the PRC to offer an alternative to a Washington-centered world:

For developing countries, many of which have grown disenchanted with the so-called Washington consensus, a mixture of lowered trade barriers, privatization, democracy and free markets, there is intense interest in trying to learn from China. There is talk of a rival "Beijing Consensus," which emphasizes innovation and growth through a social-market economy, while placing less emphasis on free markets and democracy.

Beijing's school for diplomats is the civilian equivalent of the DoD's officer-exchange programs and invitations to foreign military officers to attend various American military schools. It builds relationships that will be invaluable to China not now, but decades from now, when the current crop of African diplomats is working the levers of government across Africa.

The PRC program is an interesting model for a U.S. administration that looks forward to a democratic future in which civilians run the show throughout the developing world.

French closes his article with a quote from Qin Yaqing, vice president of the Foreign Affairs University that's running the diplomat classes:

"China has a certain development experience that is relevant to these countries, and my advice is derived in part from Samuel Huntington, whose view is that democracy is a luxury."


phil said...

What's troubling about this is not what the Chinese are doing, but that if Africans came to the US to study foreign affairs they would probably get the same kind of anti-American spin that they would get in China.

"its "remarkable quarter century of economic growth," position the PRC to offer an alternative to a Washington-centered world"

Well, China's remarkable quarter century of growth IS Washington centered. Who do they think China has been selling to? Who has been investing in the Chinese economy? Whose rules do they think they have been adhering to?

davesgonechina said...

I've been looking at China's media efforts in Africa... I noticed you also posted on measuring soft power. How about using numbers on media reach as an indicator of soft power?

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