An Australian senator has resigned after taking a trip paid by a Chinese businessman and speaking in favor of Beijing in the South China Sea dispute. The case has sparked a strong backlash against the so-called “Chinese influence in Western politics”.
I am not a fan of conspiracy theories and I don’t want to get into the details of the case. But are the Chinese trying to influence the world?
First, what does China think of the global narrative? It surely isn’t very fair, as there are too many negative images of China out there. An autocrat, an abuser and aggressive trader are some of the terms you will most likely hear when China’s name comes up.
Does China have problems? Sure it does. But no country is perfect, and painting China with a broad brush doesn’t do justice to a complicated and aspiring country. In the eyes of the Chinese, the big picture has been distorted and there is a need to rebalance.
Actually, it has become politically convenient in the West to bash China. China is like the new kid on the block: He looks different, he thinks differently and he is big – so he must be a bully. But bigotry is easy.
China has been recalibrating itself all along. Since the 1970s, it has become an exporter of stuff, from goods to people, from money to now ideas. But ideas of what exactly?
China defends the claims in the South China Sea and supports the Paris climate agreement because of its own interests? Partially yes. But China also supports other countries in jointly developing the sea and protecting the Earth because of its values: A fair world and shared future. China is right then and there.
So can China be a better communicator? Yes, of course. 内圣外王 “Being Sacred Inside and Being Kingly Outside” is the embodiment of the traditional Chinese thinking. The Chinese are pragmatic and want to score points. But the Chinese are also a nation with a strong sense and long history of moral reflection.
The bigger you are, the easier you become a target. More than ever, China should be calm and magnanimous. It is not another bully among nations; It can be the sweetheart of the world.
President Xi said it well by quoting a poet from 700 years ago
I am not longing for praise, as long as my integrity stays
China has a story to tell. When it speaks, it does so softly but with confidence. And the world listens not because "I can win" but because "I am right."