China’s Media in Sino-African Relations
By Brandon Gaither
China’s investment in Africa has grown exponentially over the last decade. One industry that has seen a sharp rise in Chinese influence is the media, though its potential influence is often ignored. One reason China’s presence in African media may have been ignored is that it is not a new phenomenon. Their media was present during the Cold War exemplified by the opening of a New China News Agency office in Cairo in 1958. But times have changed and China now boasts a significantly more sophisticated media apparatus than it did during that period, yet western power’s concerns seem to focus solely on China’s economic presence. Western media have even alluded to their investment being the new colonialism of our time. Whether this is true or not is to be seen. What is known is that these relationships with African nations are something China intends to protect and cultivate. In order to do this, China must keep a positive image in Africa, maintain relationships with hospitable leaders, and build bonds with local populations. China uses its media as an effective tool in completing these objectives, and the nation’s media presence deserves greater focus than it has received.
The neo-colonialist narrative is one that China has fought to combat as its investments have increased. In an editorial on the topic in the Global Times, the writer attacks the claim stating, “Some US politicians endear themselves to voters by kissing babies. Imagine the outcry if another country’s leaders said that US politicians are sexual abusers of children because both they and pederasts kiss children. The charge would be derided as illogical and politically-based. That is also how US politicians’ claims of ‘Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa’ should be treated.” Reductio ad absurdum arguments aren’t the only methods utilized by Chinese state media to combat the claim. Statistics are also very prevalent when combating comparisons of American and European colonization. An article from The People’s Daily exemplifying this states that “China has waived 10.9 billion yuan (about 1.38 billion U.S. dollars) of debt owed by 31 heavily indebted and least developed countries in Africa. And since 1956, China has helped build 720 major projects in 49 African countries”. Chinese leadership is well aware of the devastation brought to the continent by colonial practices and the sensitivity the subject holds in African nations. To this end China has made it a point to depict themselves as a friend and partner in the region despite conflicting claims from abroad.
The role of Chinese media in relation to Africa does not stop merely at being a means to combat negative public relations; it is an end in and of itself. According to the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Johannesburg action plan (2016-2018), the two sides have agreed that China will train 1,000 African media personnel yearly and will provide technology support training for radio and TV digitization. In exchange, the African side will welcome the involvement of Chinese enterprise in investing and cooperation in building and operating the stations. Training African journalists could lead to the journalists practicing journalism in an identical fashion to how it is performed in China; in a way that’s more beneficial to central state messaging than to dissenting parties. There is evidence that this may already be the case. China’s method of “constructive journalism” which allows feedback, both positive and negative, as long as it is framed in a positive light, coupled with a “no strings attached” aid policy, have helped to solidify those in positions of power through censorship, and without making the concessions that the west would demand. It has also had the effect of causing the foreign policy of the recipient nations to move closer to China’s. Building ties with leadership on the African continent is not the only soft power objective of Chinese media. Ties with members of the communities themselves matter a great deal as well.
The call for providing film and television programming for the respective national broadcast agencies, Chinese participation in international book fairs, and for the donation of books on Chinese language learning to prestigious African libraries is outlined under the subheading of “Media and Journalism” in the FCOAC. These acts lay groundwork for cultural exchanges through media that allow Chinese culture to permeate through African societies. These cultural ties help to engender closeness among citizens and the Chinese.
China’s moves through media and other means have paid dividends, made evident by the positive view that the nation holds on the African continent. Gallup also shows an overwhelmingly positive view of China on the African continent on six of the seven nations polled. Media plays a part in this as it is a factor in the overall soft power strategy in Africa. The US, if it truly values having a leading role in Africa, has reason to worry. Perceptions have changed. African countries on average give a higher rating to the current importance of trade relations with China than they do to the USA. This seems fitting considering that China’s exports to Africa are almost five times that of the United States. The image of the US in Africa may decline in comparison to China due to the election of Donald Trump, and his stances on the continent. Hostile rhetoric like Trump’s opens the door for the influential Chinese media to further improve its image in comparison to the US’ in Africa.
Brandon Gaither is a graduate student in Georgia State University’s Mass Communication Program. His research focuses on global communication and public diplomacy.
China Poised to Absorb U.S. Soft Power Under Trump
By Janita Poe
In an era where nations battle with image and appeal rather than tanks and artillery, the United States under Donald Trump stands to lose mightily on the international stage; and waiting in the wings for the leading role is China, the world’s second largest economy.
Just days before Trump’s inauguration, China’s president Xi Jinping gave a World Economic Forum address in Davos, Switzerland, that touted economic globalization and called for “making peace, promoting reconciliation and restoring stability” in the world. The first Chinese leader to speak at the summit, Xi was the voice of reason, a compassionate world leader willing to trade with smaller countries and “jointly meet challenges.”
“Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from,” Xi said in his speech, which opened the event at the Alpine resort. “Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, products, industries and people between economies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible.”
In contrast, Trump was gruff and unyielding in his Jan. 20 inauguration address. Instead of trumpeting the land of immigrants and opportunity, he threw down a them-versus-us gauntlet and painted international alliances as a thorn in the side United States ambition.
“For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military,” Trump said. “We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
While the country focuses on Trump’s executive orders and tiffs with Mexico and Australia, China is quietly positioning itself for a fight over something that could make America second rate again: soft power.
Coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye[cq] in 1990, soft power is a political actor’s ability to reach goals through attraction rather than through force or payments. A nation’s hard power is tied up in its wealth, population and military strength; its soft power – directly and indirectly promoted through the media – is the appeal of its culture, values and reputation.
“If a country can make its power legitimate in the eyes of others it will encounter less resistance to its wishes,” Nye said in “Limits of American Power,” an article he originally wrote for a winter 2002 edition of Political Science Quarterly. “If its culture and ideology are attractive, others more willingly follow.”
Since World War II, the United States’ soft power has been unparalleled. U.S brands such as Apple, Disney, McDonalds and Coca-Cola are the standard and the nation’s music, television and Hollywood celebrities are venerated everywhere. Meanwhile, the country enjoys generally positive press, as a diplomatic relations leader, a provider of aid and refugee relief and a bastion of diversity, most recently illustrated with the democratic election of a president of black, “sub-Saharan” African descent.
While the U.S. has appeared to maintain this soft power with limited effort, in recent years China has made propaganda and image a primary focus.
In a July/August 2015 Foreign Affairs article, “China’s Soft Power Push,” George Washington University political scientist David Shambaugh[cq] estimated that China’s central government headquarters in Beijing spends $10 billion U.S. dollars a year on soft power ventures. Shambaugh said China’s soft power campaign began in 2007 and intensified in 2011 when the Chinese Communist Party, under Xi’s leadership, began rolling out a plan to become a “socialist cultural superpower” in contrast to the capitalist superpower brand of the United States.
“Under Xi, China has bombarded the world with a welter of new initiatives: “the Chinese dream,” “the Asia-Pacific dream,” “the Silk Road Economic Belt,” “the Twenty-First-Century Maritime Silk Road,” “a new type of major-country relations,” and many others.” Shambaugh wrote. “It is easy to dismiss such talk as “slogan diplomacy,” but Beijing nonetheless attaches great importance to it.”
Even with the financial and party investments, China’s ability to conquer hearts and minds around the world remains to be seen.
To many, China is still a massive but isolated one-party society stuck in a socialist time warp. Indeed, a 2015 Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project found that the majority of influential countries value strong economic ties to the U.S. over China. And, despite some 475 Confucius Institutes – centers that teach Chinese language and culture in other countries – English is still the global business world’s default lingua franca.
But, if ever there was a time for China to seize the lead role, it’s now. A Politico poll released Wednesday found that 47 percent of voters approve of Trump’s job performance, down from 49 percent in the same poll the previous week. Trump’s disapproval rating has also increased from 41 percent to 46 percent.
If the Trump administration continues to stumble and China successfully revamps its frozen-in-the-Cold-War image, a shift in the power balance could very well be on the horizon.
“Soft power cannot be bought, it must be earned,” said Shambaugh, in the Foreign Affairs piece. “And it is best earned when a society’s talented citizens are allowed to interact directly with the world rather than be controlled by authorities. For China, that would mean loosening draconian restraints at home and reducing efforts to control opinion abroad. Only then could the country tap its enormous reserve of unrealized soft power.”
Janita Poe is an award-winning journalist and Ph.D. student with a global communication focus in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University.
Rapists or Good People? The Facts Behind Latin American Immigration
By Brenda Cargin
It began with Donald Trump’s 2015 presidential bid announcement in which he made a claim that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” A year later, this claim is partially responsible for Trump’s election as our 45th president. While the election is now behind us, it is still timely to unmask the discrepancy in Trump’s migration rhetoric, as it is likely to inform his policy. I argue that counter to Mr. Trump’s claim, the actual number of violent undocumented Latinos in the US is miniscule and more violence originates from restrictions on immigration than vice versa. Instead of constructing a bigger wall, it is time that that we construct an accurate discourse surrounding Latino immigrants.
Trump’s argument against Latino immigration has always been laden with the purpose of awakening fear in Americans about the violent nature of incoming immigrants. However, the facts simply do not support this rhetoric. First data shows that violent crime in the US in general has dropped by 34% and property crime has dropped by 26%, even during the height of illegal immigration in 2007. Studies also demonstrate that the demographic of undocumented young Latino men has a significantly lower incarceration rate than their native US-born counterparts, about 1.6% in comparison to the native 3.3%. While one could make the argument that by virtue of remaining in this country undocumented an immigrant is committing a crime, we are still missing the violent link that Trump has so thoroughly stressed in his stance against illegal immigration. Almost half of all undocumented immigrants entered the US legally on tourist, student, or temporary worker visas that have expired, meaning that these immigrants were approved by immigration officials before entering the US and only became “illegal” when their documentation expired. Thus, to claim that undocumented immigrants coming from Latin America are mostly dangerous isn’t fair.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are undocumented immigrants that are committing violent and dangerous crimes- about 1.6% of undocumented Latino young men for example, as noted above. However, these Latinos are often initially violent out of necessity, as the coyotes, the violent traffickers that charge outrageous fees to smuggle immigrants across the border, often require immigrants to traffic drugs and weapons across the border for them. By forcing immigrants to engage in this activity at the beginning of their trek into the US, coyotes are essentially initiating these Latinos into the violent gangs that Trump has described. Clearly, tacking on an expansion to an already flimsy wall of immigration policy will not reduce violent immigrant crime; by restricting the border, these policies have only created a higher demand for traffickers and have thus created more subversive violent crime by Latino gangs. Trump’s additions to these policies regarding the wall may actually be counterproductive by increasing immigrant violence from the border.
The facts, therefore, easily dispel Trump’s platform; a wall has not and will not fix the challenges and shortcomings facing our national immigration policy. A comprehensive change is required in order to truly initiate significant improvement in this arena. But this change cannot only come from immigration policies; change is also necessary in the discourse circulating about immigrants. In the mere weeks since Trump has been elected, protests have broken out because immigrants and advocates are terrified that their families are going to be separated under Trump’s impending immigration policies and that they are going to suffer. US citizens are already being confronted and harassed by Americans who assume that they are undocumented and want them to leave the US. The perception of violent Latino crime that is currently running rampant in our nation is facilitating violent discourse.
It is imperative that as a nation we stop framing immigrants as second-class citizens and assuming that all immigrants are criminals. While federal immigration policies are necessary, it is currently more important that as a nation we shift our perception of immigrants from fear-based assumptions to fact-based positive discourse. Allies of US Latinos are now advocating unity and the continued pursual of the American values of freedom and respect for Latinos after Trump’s election, which is a crucial first step in this process of changing the conversation. While federal policies and officials may alienate Latinos, we as individuals must change the narrative. Instead of framing immigrants as criminals, the media and public must consider the immigrants with whom we work, attend school, and neighbor and create accurate narratives based on these people, not the violent criminals that Trump has flippantly claimed make up the majority.
Brenda Cargin is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Mass Communication at Georgia State University. Her research focuses on digital media studies and Latin America. Brenda holds Bachelor’s degrees in both Latin American & Caribbean Studies and Spanish from the University of Georgia.