China’s public relations



Well I heartily agree with the statement of spokesman Raul Hernandez of the Department of Foreign Affairs; “There is no place in the relations of civilized nations to use such provocative language. We call on China to be a responsible member in the community of nations,” in his response to a report in the Chinese media of a threatened “counterstrike” against the Philippines if it continues to provoke Beijing in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute. Of course, this is not the first time colorful phraseology has been used by the Chinese in reference to their claims for the South China Sea.

They just can’t seem to get it right, these belligerent and provocative statements that they make and behaviors that they adopt are totally unbecoming to a nation which aspires to be a world leader. If all nations used these sorts of behaviors and rhetoric in their relations, the world would soon be in a very sorry state. The definition of diplomacy is to manage international relations peacefully, and in a skillful and sensitive way. It is all about solving difficult inter-nation problems through skillful negotiation in order to arrive at a required outcome. Sun Tzu, the Chinese writer of the Art of War is an early [495 BC] contributor to international relations theory, and propounded the use of negotiation [and cunning]in solving territorial disputes.

It seems that Chinese international diplomacy is now rather more heavy handed than that expounded by Sun Tzu and many other ancient Chinese negotiators/diplomats. Gunboat diplomacy is the method being used in the South China Sea to enforce its hegemony over the area, and as the Chinese should have expected, this is inciting the United States to respond by supporting its local allies, in similar terms. But even the term gunboat diplomacy is a bit old fashioned really, harking back to the highly unfashionable days of colonialism. We have moved [mostly]from the regular use of gunboat diplomacy these days into dollar diplomacy, giving aid, building infrastructure, etc., in underdeveloped countries in order to gain political influence to support trade, such as the Chinese now do [and earlier the Europeans did]in many African countries.

“Power comes from the barrel of a gun,” says Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book and there is a lot of truth in that; “making people offers they can’t refuse” etc. in Mafia-speak. But is this the way in the 21st Century that society wants the world to be? Always subject to posturing, offensive rhetoric, belligerence, force and diabolical threats, or should we have reached a level of civilization in which negotiation and compromise, laced with a bit of cunning, can in almost all but the most dire cases bring about peaceful resolutions to international differences of opinion?

Having some scant professional knowledge of the likelihood of commercially developable hydrocarbon resources in the areas of the South China Sea under dispute, I very much doubt that these are enough to justify serious military action, but then there is that matter of the shipping lanes and fishing rights, but even so . . . .

China, it seems, needs time to prepare itself to take part in a way which is appropriate to the 21st Century on the international diplomatic stage. International respect does not just come as a response to waving guns around, nor from money albeit these are ingredients, it comes from a perception by others that a nation operates on the many and wide ranging principles and values, including a bit of compassion that are widely held to be “right” or at least acceptable, and China has some way to go to reach that target. Another extract from the Little Red Book—“War this monster of human slaughter amongst men, will be finally eliminated by the progress of human society. . . .”

The Chinese are adept at picking up other people’s technology but they are considered weak at innovation, they face a multitude of challenges in developing their own society including the education and social security systems, cleaning up their environment and in managing their own economy, let alone their demographic challenges. It would further their aim of world recognition and respect if they first put their own house in order, rather than pursuing expansionist policies based on the theory that power comes from the barrel of a gun, backed up by a few trillion dollars of borrowed foreign exchange reserves.

So, in order to try to demonstrate a bit of balance to this particular column to show that it is meant to be constructive commentary, even perhaps insightful, rather than just another China bashing rant, here is an extract picked from a booklet by General Smedley Butler of the US Marines on the subject of gunboat diplomacy, which demonstrates well that it is not only China that can do questionable things with guns;

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The reference in that quote to Standard Oil in China is to the acquisition by Standard Oil [later Esso]of exclusive exploration and production rights for the company covering the whole of China, which is one of the historical matters along with the two Opium Wars [1839-1860] and other events drilled into Chinese children even today to impress upon them the evils of foreigners. To remove this stuff from the curriculum would be a step in the right direction.

Mike can be contacted at


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