China Embraces 'Soft Power' and; New Course for Iraq
By Joshua Kurlantzick
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 15, 2006; Page B03
North Korea may have conducted a nuclear test last week, but it was China that went a little ballistic. Beijing condemned its longtime ally, denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's "flagrant and brazen" violation of global norms. Pyongyang, China declared, had "defied the universal opposition of international society."
Other nations joined the chorus of concern over North Korea's apparent entry into the nuclear club. But China remains the one country that can do more than fume and condemn. It now has the chance to wield the diplomatic influence it has carefully been amassing in recent years as it pursues a new strategy in Asia and elsewhere in the world. Call it Chinese power, 21st-century-style.
While Washington has focused on the fight against terrorism, China has quietly reoriented its foreign policy to emerge as a new advocate of "soft power" -- a combination of diplomatic outreach, cultural attractiveness and economic might that helps a nation persuade other countries to follow its lead.
North Korea is a case in point. China has lately become Pyongyang's major trading partner and source of aid. Chinese leaders have taken Kim on tours of their booming south to suggest how he might boost his backward economy, and they have trained North Korean officials in economic management. It was Beijing that helped persuade Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table for the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
It's all part of an international charm offensive that could threaten U.S. interests abroad, but could also -- if properly exploited by other nations -- transform the Asian giant into a more responsible member of the world community.
Beijing has embraced the concept of soft power with vigor. In recent years, it has dispatched more than 2,000 volunteer language instructors all over the world to teach Mandarin; upgraded its diplomatic corps (half of the country's 4,000 diplomats are reportedly younger than 35); boosted its foreign aid to match the United States as a donor in some countries; increased overseas investment; promoted the study of Chinese culture worldwide; and launched a frenzy of trade initiatives, developing more than 10 free-trade deals in the past five years.
China has even created its own version of the Peace Corps -- the China Association for Youth Volunteers. Like its U.S. counterpart, it sends young people to developing countries such as Burma, Ethiopia and Laos to work on long-term community-assistance projects -- and to polish China's global image in the process.
While it initially concentrated on the immediate neighborhood of Southeast Asia, China has lately expanded its soft power play into Latin America, Central Asia and Africa. Thousands of young professionals from sub-Saharan Africa now travel to China on scholarships provided by Beijing. Trade between the continent and China grew by more than 260 percent between 2001 and 2005. China offers Africa about $2.7 billion annually in loans and grants.
Beijing has also been busy planning Confucius Institutes -- Chinese language and culture schools attached to universities -- in key African nations such as Kenya, as well as countries such as Uzbekistan and the Philippines. And Chinese officials shrewdly advertise these initiatives at new summits such as the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, which was established in 2000, and the upcoming China-Africa summit next month.
The Chinese leadership's decision to go soft was a conscious one, a reaction to Western shunning after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and the failure of China's attempts in the 1990s to use its growing military force to intimidate its neighbors into choosing Beijing over Washington. And it has yielded some dazzling success.
A BBC poll last year of 22 nations found that nearly all believed that China played a more positive role in the world than the United States. Today, Southeast Asian officials compete for junkets and training in China. "We have no money, and this is the only training we can get," a top official in Laos's Foreign Ministry told me. Chinese aid funds roads and hospitals across Asia, and neighboring countries orient their commerce toward Beijing: Growing trade with China has transformed Chiang Saen, a formerly sleepy Thai village on the Mekong River. Today, container vessels arrive with crates of Chinese apples that are unloaded into trucks lined up at the town's port, while Chinese traders gather at flashy massage parlors to barter with importers.
China's newfound popularity could raise a host of problems internationally. Its emergence as a donor country may allow aid recipients to play Beijing off against organizations such as the World Bank. Just this summer, Chad moved toward evicting two oil companies, Chevron Corp. and Malaysia's Petronas, from a project backed by the bank, which had insisted that some of the oil profits be spent on improving social welfare. There's a chance that Chad may replace the oil firms with Chinese companies; at the same time that it was kicking out Chevron and Petronas, it was breaking relations with Taiwan and establishing ties with China. China's growing foreign investment could also contribute to environmental destruction, because Chinese firms have little experience with green policies at home.
Worse, as Beijing charms the world, it could persuade other developing nations to choose a Chinese growth model -- promoting gradual economic change but clamping down on any political opening. Many foreign leaders, even in democracies, undeniably want to emulate China's breakneck development. "There's great admiration for China," says Dewi Fortuna Anwar, former assistant minister for foreign affairs in Indonesia. Even the head of the African Development Bank told the World Economic Forum in January that Africa can learn from the Chinese.
But as Beijing's profile rises, its foreign policy will also come under greater scrutiny. Its leaders will have to do more to maintain the country's appeal -- and this could be the opportunity the West needs to bend China toward becoming a more responsible international power and moving away from some of its more roguish friends, such as North Korea, Iran and Venezuela.
On core issues such as regime survival or vital oil and gas fields, change is unlikely. But there has been some positive movement on other fronts. Though China once disdained treaties, it has lately proved increasingly willing to work with multilateral institutions. Its image improved significantly in Asia after it signed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, the landmark agreement in the region.
Burma is another example of how China might be prodded to look beyond its narrowest interests. Burmese activists are adopting a strategy of quietly emphasizing to China that reflexive support for the regime in Rangoon will only exacerbate instability on China's borders and stir up anti-China sentiment among ordinary Burmese. They have a point. In Chinese towns near Burma, heroin junkies sleep in alleys, waiting for drug shipments from across the border.
Inside Burma, domestic instability has made it easy for armed Burmese thugs to kidnap Chinese business people in the country.
And the strategy shows some signs that it's working. Chinese officials have begun cultivating relations with exiled Burmese dissidents, a step unthinkable only five years ago. At the same time, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has prodded Burma to engage with its democratic opposition, and China has allowed the U.N. Security Council to take up Burma's human rights and security crises, suggesting that Beijing might also be willing to accept tough U.N. action against North Korea.
Similarly, Chinese diplomats say that Beijing became serious about using its influence to fight disease only after the SARS and bird flu crises made the government recognize how cross-border disease could produce instability. In response, China held a donor conference on bird flu this year that raised $2 billion in pledges.
In other cases, activists and foreign governments could try to convince Beijing that soft power exercised irresponsibly will hurt Chinese companies operating abroad. If local populations see China's soft power as undermining their freedom and social welfare, top Chinese corporations will never become competitive international players. Instead, Chinese businesses will suffer the kind of guilt by association that tars American companies such as McDonald's, which can at least draw upon massive advertising budgets to combat the United States's poor global image.
Beijing desperately wants to prevent Chinese firms from facing the kind of security threats that Western companies confront, but it's beginning to happen. Though China recently promised Nigeria $4 billion in new investment, armed militants have warned Beijing to stay away from the Niger Delta, where they think oil firms are destroying the waterways and Chinese companies could contribute to environmental damage.
In other countries, such as South Africa and Zambia, workers have protested Chinese firms' labor policies. Locals had celebrated several years ago when China revitalized Zambia's decrepit Chambishi copper mine. But when 49 miners died in an accident in April 2005, their families received no compensation; the resulting anger was so great that Chambishi's Chinese managers stayed away from the workers' funerals for fear of being attacked.
In the recent Zambian election, opposition candidate Michael Sata played on this anger, accusing Chinese companies of exploiting local workers and threatening to evict the Chinese firms if he won. When Sata lost, his supporters rioted in the Zambian capital, targeting Chinese businesses.
But China's growing soft power most needs checking as Beijing begins using its leverage to meddle in other countries' domestic politics. Before Sata lost, China's ambassador to Zambia had warned that Beijing might cut off diplomatic ties to the country depending upon whom Zambians chose for president. In interviews across Asia, Africa and Latin America, activists, politicians, writers and other opinion leaders expressed to me their fears that growing Chinese influence in their countries could stifle political change, though they simultaneously hope that Beijing can use its diplomatic influence to restrain Asia's most dangerous actors, such as North Korea.
China has amassed impressive soft power -- now it has to prove that it's willing to use it wisely.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
His book on China's soft power will be released in early 2007.
A Plan for Iraq
By Dennis Ross
Sunday, October 15, 2006; Page B07
As a longtime negotiator in the Middle East, I learned that the most demanding requirement of peacemaking was just getting each side to adjust to reality. In Iraq today, 3 1/2 years after the United States went to war there, no one seems to be doing that.
The Shiites, who dominate the government, may have reason to distrust the Sunnis, but they also remain unready to recognize the Sunnis' need for formal assurance that they will have a piece of the pie. The Sunnis may understand, intellectually, that they will no longer hold all the positions of power and privilege, but emotionally they have yet to accept the idea of the Shiites -- an underclass in their eyes -- as the dominant political force. The Kurds, regardless of what they say, expect to be independent and simply want a political framework that legitimizes that status without exposing them to threats from Turkey or Iran.
And what about the Bush administration -- has it adjusted to reality? It claims progress, even while we sink into civil war. New security plans are tried and fail. Expectations that we will be able to draw down our forces rise and then fall as sectarian violence increases and becomes self-perpetuating.
Staying the course is a prescription for avoiding reality. But simply setting a deadline and withdrawing might also constitute a form of denial -- denial of what will happen in the region after a precipitous pullout. So what can be done?
The starting point is to recognize that Iraq is not going to be a democratic, unified country that serves as a model for the region. The violence and the Sunni-Shiite division have already ruled that out. Instead, Iraq could, in the best case, evolve into a country that has the following: a central government with limited powers; provincial governments with extensive autonomy; sharing of oil revenue; and, at the local level, some rough form of representation and tolerance for minorities. In those circumstances Iraq might eventually achieve stability.
Such an outcome won't materialize on its own. To be sure, it could emerge after a prolonged civil war, which is the path we are heading down. Three interconnected initiatives might create a more acceptable path for managing either this outcome or at least our own disengagement from Iraq.
First, it's time for the Bush administration to insist that a national reconciliation conference be held and not be disbanded until agreement is reached on amendments to the constitution. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has presented his plan for national reconciliation, but it fails to address the constitution and the legal assurances Sunnis want.
The Sunnis supported the constitution and participated in the elections last December with the understanding that there would be amendments on sharing oil revenue, on a prohibition against provinces' seceding and on the role of Islam in the state. Those amendments were never adopted, and now, when a committee has finally been formed to discuss them, it appears to the Sunnis that they will have to negotiate with a gun at their heads: namely, with parallel discussions on developing plans for provinces to secede also taking place.
Above all, what the Sunnis don't want is a rump state without resources. If they think that's all they will be left with, they will continue to at least acquiesce in the insurgency. And for the Shiites, that will be justification for preserving their militias. No national compact, no formal structure giving the Sunnis a legal foothold, no end to their support for the insurgency and no readiness by the Shiites to disband their militias.
Second, a long-discussed regional conference with all of Iraq's neighbors should be held. None of them -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey -- wants the Bush administration to succeed in Iraq (at least in the way the president defines success). And yet every one of them fears the consequences of an Iraq convulsed in the aftermath of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal. A full-scale civil war, with refugees streaming out of the country, with instability bound to leak across borders, and with other nations intervening to protect their own interests and their Iraqi allies is just as much a nightmare for Iran as it is for Saudi Arabia. While Iraq's neighbors may agree on little else, the common interest of wanting to avoid an all-out civil war in Iraq could create a basis for a general set of understandings on what they will and will not do to help foster stability there. The administration ought to work for such a conference now.
Third, President Bush should inform Maliki that we will not impose a deadline for withdrawal but we are going to negotiate with his government a timetable for our departure. The difference between a deadline and an agreed timetable is the difference between leaving the Iraqis in the lurch and informing them they have to assume responsibilities. The former guarantees preservation of the militias as they anticipate a deepening civil war; the latter puts all sectarian groups on notice that they can shape the future but the clock is ticking and if they don't begin to get serious about reconciliation and about fulfilling their own responsibilities they face the abyss.
No one in Iraq seems to want us there, but everyone is afraid to have us leave. In the meantime, everyone seems willing to sit back, to avoid tackling the tough problems and to let us carry the brunt of the fighting. That has to stop.
Clearly there should be a relationship between the effort to finally produce national reconciliation and our approach to working out an agreement on the timing of withdrawal. If the Iraqis create a real national compact, the United States can be more flexible on its timetable for withdrawal. If they fail to do so, the United States must be more demanding in negotiations on the timetable. Ultimately, if Iraqis are ready to resolve their internal political differences, to adjust to reality and to make the hard choices they face, our presence can help in the transition. But if they continue to avoid reality, our presence will simply prolong both their state of denial and ours. It is time for a change in course.
The writer was director for policy planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush and special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton. He is counselor of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.