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China and the Soft War | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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If the conflict between the US and its affiliated Western camp on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and its satellite states on the other, was known as the Cold War, then today there is a new and different kind of war taking place between the US and China, making use of completely different tools and methods, which can perhaps best be described as a “Soft War”. The most important tools in this conflict are soft powers, namely finance and culture.

China is gradually eating up the US’s financial power, whilst also growing stronger and developing as a manufacturing base for the entire world, based on cheap labor and the availability of raw materials at competitive prices. This has allowed China to gain a foothold in a large variety of different industries, from airplane and car production to furniture and clothes manufacturing and everything in between. At the same time, China continues to develop and strengthen its reputation as a center for high-quality production and manufacturing, as well as the more inexpensive variety.

Television viewers in China were recently surprised by the cancellation of 88 television programs, including dramas, comedies, and even talent competitions. It was revealed that this decision was taken “at the highest level of the Chinese leadership”. A few days prior to this, an essay written by Chinese President Hu Jintao was published by the Chinese “Seeking Truth” magazine [which serves as a platform for establishing Communist Party principles] in which he said that “we must clearly see that international hostile forces are stepping up their strategic attempts to Westernize and divide our country”. He stressed that “there must be home-grown Chinese [cultural] products to encourage the Chinese youth” adding “the overall strength of Chinese culture and its international influence is not commensurate with China’s international status.”

The Chinese president is aware that the Chinese economy will outstrip and outperform that of the US within the next ten years; however the US cultural hegemony and its influence will remain undisputed for the foreseeable future. China spent millions on trying to produce an effective film industry, however the US film and television industry continues to dominate the world, and indeed influence the Chinese youth, which is a source of concern for the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Therefore, a radical change is expected in Chinese politics and policies in this regard. Seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee [PSC] of the Communist Party of China are expected to leave their positions, whilst many of the most prominent members of the Chinese National People’s Congress are also expected to stand down. President Hu Jintao seems to now be focusing on domestic policies and personnel changes in order to enforce the political ideology of the ruling Chinese Communist Party; this is in order to control and influence the new Chinese political leaders and their views.

Many of the Chinese have expressed nostalgia for the revolutionary ideology of Mao Zedong, who led the Cultural Revolution in China, and have called for his ideology to be reviewed and re-applied. Perhaps the most prominent figure to call for this is Bo Xilai, the Communist Party of China Chongqing Committee Secretary, also a member of the Politburo. Bo Xilai said that China has become too Westernized, which has resulted in social inequality, as well as unprecedented levels of poverty and crime. He, alongside others, is calling for a return to traditional Chinese cultural roots and Confucianism. China, which had hoped to export its culture in the same manner that it exports its products, is now fighting to protect itself from a cultural and ideological “invasion”. This has reduced its interest in greater openness with the outside world; rather China is now instead focusing on its own internal situation, relying on its economic growth and development to open new frontiers and produce – and more importantly consume – its own cultural products. However one question remains, namely “how will America respond to this?”

This will be decided by the next round in this Soft War.