By Jamphel Shonu*
Over the last few decades China has seen a massive economic growth based on an export oriented and investment led policy of manufacturing goods for the world.
With the massive economic growth, China dreamt of a new world order led by the middle kingdom, which was formally announced by President Xi Jinping in his speech at the 19th plenum thus heralding the beginning of China’s new era.
However, international politics, which determine the world order is based on a hyper-competitive game of influence and power. In this realm of power game include economics, politics, and military affairs, thus evoking a deep distrust even among friendly nations in their quest for influence.
Nevertheless, it is in this game of influence that Chinese leaders seem to have excelled over the years. China has successfully used economic incentives to exert influence in advancing the geostrategic goals of the country. So much so that today, China’s growing overseas influence operations is evident in every corner of the world, from Australasia and Africa to Latin America, from East Asia and Central Asia to Europe.
Astonishingly, this silent invasion of influence has an unprecedented angle. Unlike the past, the current struggle for influence has taken China beyond the traditional spheres such as politics, military and economics, into previously uncharted territories like academia, media, sports, and even the metaphysical.
In academia for instance, China’s influence is subtle, widespread and deepening. One aspect of Chinese penetration in western academic institutes is through the vast global network of the 500-odd Confucius Institutes (most of them on university campuses) that China has established.
These Confucius institutes are the most benign dimension of an increasingly visible and troubling Chinese government effort to penetrate and influence academic institutes such as schools and Universities. And by mobilizing the increasing number of Chinese students in western colleges and universities, China is effectively using a potent combination of physical and financial power to coerce universities, threatening the sanctity and the culture of liberal expression associated with academic institutes. Already, Universities in Australia and elsewhere are accused of bowing down to Chinese pressure to censor articles critical of China and its policies.
In politics, Chinese effort to exert influence is colossal and multipronged. China has resorted to making exorbitant donations to political parties and have started grooming politicians to do their bidding, as evidenced in the recent cases of Sam Dastyari in Australia, Steve Daines in the US, Yang Jian in New Zealand.
In the media, China has used monetary incentives again to create a favourable public opinion of China through the press. It has also resorted to coercion to stop publication of books or censor articles or researches that doesn’t align with its goals. Chinese efforts to ban films that portray China in a bad light or shun actors and singers that support causes such as Tibet is not unheard of. With major Hollywood production houses now financed by China, efforts to curb dissenting are rampant.
Even in sports, China’s meddlesome tactics has grown increasingly growing worrisome. Chinese businessmen such as Wang Jialin and Jack Ma have been on a shopping spree of global football and sports teams, which has caught the attention of sports enthusiasts across the world.
Using their financial clout China has also resorted to ‘stadium diplomacy’ to coerce organisers and games. Recently, China threatened to pull out of an under-20 football tournament in Germany following a display of Tibetan flag by some of the spectators. With stadium diplomacy, China has constructed stadiums and other sports facilities as gifts to countries in return for preferential access to much-needed natural resources.
Meanwhile, in the cut-throat competition for trade and economics, China has splurged billions of dollars on its flagship belt and road initiative. The BRI, China’s most ambitious project yet, has led to massive infrastructure projects in countries that lie along the path of the BRI. However, these infrastructure projects were often built with huge loans to the governments of these respective countries. As a result, these countries are caught in a debt trap that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence in the future.
Even in the metaphysical sphere, China has been trying to portray itself as a spiritual powerhouse. Usually, it is counter intuitive for a country that professes itself to be ‘atheist’ to venture into the metaphysical, but that hasn’t stopped China from interfering in purely religious matters such as the reincarnation system of the Tibetans, challenging India over Buddhist soft power, etc.
In the case of military posturing, China’s belligerent attitudes in the South and East China Seas, and the recent Doklam confrontation with India were clear examples of China’s growing confidence. With the largest standing army in the world and a 200-billion dollar defense budget, China is becoming increasingly aggressive.
Responding to the deployment of quiet diplomacy to assert China’s overseas influence operations, Sonam Norbu Dagpo, Secretary for International Relations and Spokesperson of the Central Tibetan Administration, said: “To portray itself as a global super power, China is on a mission to win the hearts and minds of the world in an effort to realize what they call the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
“However, deception is a key trademark of China’s foreign policy. Now the world is waking up to this deception, and the notion that China’s rise will be peaceful is gradually giving way to a more sinister one. One that arouses deep suspicion and fear,” he explained.
*Jamphel Shonu is the editor-in-chief of Tibet.net.