The revival of China’s soft power

Pubblicato: 1 aprile 2023 in Mondo
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One of the lessons that China has learned from the pandemic is that its century-old policy of political isolationism no longer pays off. The scope of action for a global power that is only such from a commercial point of view becomes very narrow when states return forcefully to the scene. After Xi Jinping’s confirmation to power for a third term, the Chinese leadership feels legitimate to play a political role as a counterbalance to the United States, a role that remained vacant after the end of the Soviet Union. Even Joe Biden, at the last G20, recognized the Asian country’s status as a superpower, hoping that the United States and China together could ensure the normalization of world trade in a stable international context. Beijing seems to have listened. In mid-March, in the speech presenting the three Chinese initiatives on development, security, and global civilization, Xi Jinping took up a classic Chinese battle horse, stating that the People’s Republic has no colonial ambitions, unlike other countries, in clear reference to the history of Western powers. Above all, he emphasized that the Chinese do not want to impose their own values or models on others.

Therefore, China proposes itself as a global power alternative to the United States, which does not intend to export its political-social model and respects other values and cultures. And it is a vision, however debatable, that is truly innovative. From ancient Rome onwards, all powers that have had a predominant position have imposed models and values, often even language and religion. When China says it is different, it is mainly addressing countries in the Global South that still bear the scars of colonialism on their skin. But it is also a reassuring speech for the West, clarifying that China does not intend to impose its system on others, but only to do good business in a relaxed global environment.

The first “field test” of this new challenge for China, a successful test, was the assumption of the role of mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran regarding the conflict in Yemen, which has become the battered battlefield between the Sunni power, a staunch ally of the United States, and the Shiite power, aligned with Russia on the Middle Eastern chessboard. Now the most important stake is to convince Ukraine, and above all the United States, that its proposal for a ceasefire to stop the war machine in Ukraine should be taken into consideration. With great skill, in the twelve points drawn up, Beijing lists a series of principles that are agreeable to all, such as the respect for the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of states according to UN criteria. But it does so without asking for the withdrawal of Russian occupation troops, a condition that Ukraine considers essential to start negotiations and that the Kremlin will never accept. Meanwhile, trade relations between Russia and China are consolidating, with Moscow at a clear disadvantage, having lost Western customers and its economy in desperate need of the Chinese lifebuoy. Xi Jinping presents himself to the world as the only interlocutor Vladimir Putin listens to, and this establishes the fact that there will be no peace in Ukraine without China’s presence at the negotiating table. But the result Xi Jinping seeks to achieve goes beyond the conflict, and it is to demonstrate that the real danger to the world is not China, but the Western allies’ deployment, committed only to sending weapons to Kiev, while Beijing seeks peace. A “dove” power, in short, with “hawk” antagonists. The speech is rhetorical and debatable, but it will certainly gain many consents in worlds far from Washington and Brussels, which now find a global power that speaks a comprehensible language and plays the “we are equal to you” card.



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