International Relations

President Xi will struggle to repair China’s shattered image

‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy, rabid nationalism and Covid-19 have wrecked the Party’s reputation abroad

President Xi Jinping has called for another worldwide propaganda push to give the ruling Communist Party of China a cuddly, “loveable” panda image.

In a keynote address to a study group of the powerful Politburo, he stressed that the country needed an “international voice” to match its “national strength and global status.”

Comrade Xi pointed out that it was vital “foreign audiences” understand the Party and the way it “strives for the happiness of the Chinese people.”

“We should create a [more] reliable, admirable, and lovable image of China,” he said as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday.

But if “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy and the state-run media’s rampant nationalism are examples of Xi’s Thoughts, the CCP mandarins will struggle to restore the nation’s tarnished reputation.

The facts:

  • China’s “image” has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims, and the pro-democracy crackdown in Hong Kong.
  • Deteriorating relations with major global democracies in Asia, Europe, and the United States have increased Beijing’s sense of isolation.
  • Military bullying of Taiwan and Beijing’s move to claim nearly all of the South China Sea have even increased the risk of military conflict. 
  • At the same time, the media industry is controlled and run by the Party propaganda machine.
  • In the Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, China was ranked 177 out of 180 countries and territories.
  • “The Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on news and information even more since the emergence of Covid-19,” the report stated.

Red lines: Zhang Weiwei, of the China Institute at Fudan University in Shanghai, fleshed out Xi’s vision. But he came up with nothing new, insisting “Western-style liberalism can no longer prevail in the East or West,” according to the state-run Global Times.

Global fight: “When China is successfully controlling the epidemic situation and making huge contributions to reinforcing the fight against the pandemic, the West’s poor performance and selfish decision-making look very embarrassing [in] comparison,” Zhang, a former English interpreter for China’s late Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, said.

Delve Deeper: China has boxed itself into a corner and lost the PR battle with shrill rhetoric cloaked in “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. Its state-run media groups lack editorial freedom and resemble Party cells, parroting Prada-type dogma from the 1970s. 

Joined at the hip: But that is hardly surprising as the nation’s media and the CCP are joined at the hip. Like all major Chinese companies, they have to answer to Beijing. 

Word perfect: “All news media run by the Party must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions, and protect the Party’s authority and unity,” Xi said as reported by Xinhua, the official news agency of the Party, in 2016.

Image problem: Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University, highlighted “poor communication” skills and combative diplomacy for China’s image problem.

Virus jab: “Xi’s remarks appear to be related to Washington’s move to use an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus to target China, which has gained momentum in recent weeks,” he said as reported by the South China Morning Post.

No quick fix: Wu Qiang, an independent analyst in Beijing, made it clear that the CCP is unlikely to abandon its aggressive approach to diplomacy.

Fanfare to failure: “Xi has effectively admitted the failure of external communication [with China] facing the worst [period of] international isolation since the reform and opening-up in the late 1970s,” Wu said.

China Factor comment: The authoritarian genie is out of the bottle. Xi and his Party acolytes will struggle to restore China’s shattered global image.

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