China’s Suddenly Poor Public Diplomacy

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 5, 2010

For years, the Chinese were praised for their ability to win friends in the international community through clever diplomacy and public relations. Recently, however, as the Chinese have perceived their own power to be growing, they have taken quite the belligerent approach to other countries in diplomatic gatherings. Result?

So now the balancing begins. The Vietnamese and the Americans have suddenly found cause to warm up their bilateral relationship — up to and including military cooperation, which [Hillary] Clinton discussed during her visit to Hanoi. The United States recently lifted a 12-year ban on ties to a unit of the Indonesian army that had been criticized for its spotty human rights record, opening the way for greater cooperation between those two countries’ militaries as well. Even secretive, communist Laos has been reaching out to the Americans.

We will see if the Obama Administration is smart enough to take advantage of China’s sudden propensity to lose friends and terrify other nation-states; the Administration’s outreach to Asia has left a lot to be desired. But I can’t figure the Chinese out. Even if you disagree with my contention that Chinese power is overstated and overestimated, why on Earth would the Chinese suddenly change their approach to international diplomacy and act to enrage other countries, instead of acting to win them over to China’s side by showing the same light touch that won China admiration and respect in the recent past? All China seems to be doing now is creating a balancing coalition against it, one that will surely circumscribe its power.

  • Mordechai Shinefield

    I think this is just what happens when a country becomes a hegemonic power — they naturally begin to alienate other countries. This is the beginning of China being the stock bad guy in foreign affairs and the end of the United States filling that role. Good timing, too. It was getting exhausting trying to run (ruin?) the world all by ourselves. Let someone else take over for a little while.

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