China needs to catch up in discourse power

By Pan Deng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/14 15:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US discourse on China has been getting harsher since Trump took office, widening the discourse disparity between the two countries. For Sino-US relations, it's a rude awakening for politicians, academia and media practitioners on both sides of the Pacific.

A nation's discourse is the projection of its physical strength and intellectual power in the global flow of information. It represents a nation's ideology, mindset and worldview. There are two determining factors in measuring the strength of a nation's discourse. One is the capability of a nation to project its discourse into the global public sphere, which requires sufficient and sustainable hard power. The other is the width and depth of acceptance of that discourse, which requires sophisticated persuasion techniques and means of communication. In this sense, the US discourse is undoubtedly the strongest worldwide.

Therefore, the explanation on nations' motivation to build up, maintain and adopt discourses can be seen as a hybrid of economic and political determinisms.

The IMF forecasts that China's GDP could overtake the US' by 2030. China has also been striving to upgrade its industrial structure from a "world factory" to a tech and innovation-driven one. This makes the US ever more strategically suspicious of China since the end of the Cold War.

It is for this reason that Trump's trade team has leveled sensational accusations of tech theft and IP infringement to justify their trade war against China. It's not about trade at all. It's all about curbing China's astronomical rise.

This is not something new. As early as 1972, in his book Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of US World Dominance, Michael Hudson discovered that in modern history, the US has been resorting to tariffs to pressure other nations' decision-making and development to maintain its world dominance. The US is so getting used to this means that it deludes itself into thinking that it can make China kowtow by doing the same. For the US, it's simply behavioral consistency.

Many of the Trump administration's accusations against China, like tech theft and forced tech transfer, are groundless and have been denied by American businesses. The US discourse on other countries is usually more about words than deeds. Behind fancy words and self-claimed righteousness hides the long-lasting US mindset of zero-sum game and "winner takes it all."

To make the situation worse, Trump's doctrine is proven to be personal, isolationist and monist. He's determined to make America great again at any cost. He shows no interest in understanding the basics of issues concerning another country. He believes his idea is the only way to interpret and solve domestic and international problems.

However, Trump is just adding one variable on top of the clichéd yet stubborn US ideological bias against China. The US will never accept the success of a country led by a Communist Party and the deepening China suspicion is shared by US politicians on both sides of the aisle.

In 2016, then US president Barack Obama revealed in an interview with The Atlantic that Hillary Clinton had been heard saying in private settings, "I don't want my grandchildren to live in a world dominated by the Chinese." That's utterly nonsensical.

China, on the contrary, sometimes focuses more on its deeds, rather than polishing fancy words. This is deeply rooted in its civilization. Chinese people uphold implicitness and self-restraint as core virtues of a man with noble character. The Analects of Confucius says, "I daily examine myself on three points: whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful; whether, in interaction with friends, I may have been not sincere; whether I may not have mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher."

When China advocates a community of shared future for mankind, Trump sticks to "America First" at any cost. When China upholds multilateralism, he is at trade wars with nearly all US neighbors and allies. When China invites countries to join the win-win Belt and Road initiative, Trump is withdrawing the US from international deals.

As a latecomer in systematic international communication, China has been suffering under Western media imperialism for decades. This is a challenge faced by nearly all developing countries. In Many Voices, One World, published in 1980 by UNESCO, the MacBride Commission clearly indicated that "in today's world, communication has all too frequently become an exchange between unequal partners, allowing the predominance of the more powerful, the richer and the better equipped." Unfortunately, more than three decades later, the situation is even worse.

As the world's second largest economy, China needs a discourse that fits its reality and global stature. The country's discourse buildup has been accelerating in recent years. But don't be fooled by Western media's tarnishing of China's efforts. It's not about being hawkish or squeezing the US out of its leading role, nor about exporting ideology. In simple terms, it's all about presenting a real China to the world. This is in line with China's role as a responsible player on the global stage and the democratization of world politics.

The US-China discourse disparity will not disappear, but it doesn't necessarily mean clash is the only option. The bridge is always there for China and the US to manage discourse disparity from widening. Official diplomacy, public diplomacy and people-to-people exchange are all important.

The world order may seem like an anarchy, a zero-sum game or a community of shared future. That's up for professional debate and verification. Whatever it really is, it's not, and will never be, a Trump estate.

The author is a news presenter and journalist with China Global Television Network and a visiting fellow at the Institute of Public Diplomacy, Communication University of China.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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