Chang­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics re­quire both sides adapt

Global Times - - Asian Review - By Liu Yan The au­thor is a com­men­ta­tor of the Global Times. opin­ion@glob­al­

When I ar­rived at an Amer­i­can uni­ver­sity in the early 2000s for my mas­ter’s de­gree, like many other new stu­dents from China, get­ting in touch with the uni­ver­sity’s Chi­nese Stu­dents and Schol­ars As­so­ci­a­tion was among the first things to do. The loosely or­ga­nized stu­dent body is re­spon­si­ble for li­ai­son among Chi­nese stu­dents on cam­pus and at Spring Fes­ti­val ev­ery year, or­ga­nizes a show or throws a party.

This hardly no­ticed stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion has now be­come the tar­get of scru­tiny amid ris­ing sus­pi­cion to­ward ex­pand­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in coun­tries in­clud­ing Aus­tralia and the US. The as­so­ci­a­tion has been deemed an arm of the Com­mu­nist Party of China to ex­ert in­flu­ence or even train spies abroad. This sweep­ing sen­ti­ment has also shrouded Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes in sus­pi­cion at over­seas uni­ver­si­ties.

Hos­til­ity against China’s in­flu­ence is ap­par­ently on the rise in West­ern coun­tries. The sen­ti­ment prob­a­bly stems more from West­ern anx­i­ety to­ward its own de­clin­ing in­flu­ence in the world, com­pounded by po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing that se­verely re­stricts their abil­ity to fix the prob­lems. With­out an ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion within the West­ern po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, blam­ing China has be­come a con­ve­nient ex­cuse to shift re­spon­si­bil­ity and whip up unity.

As the gap of na­tional strength be­tween China and the West con­tin­ues to shrink, the West in­creas­ingly views China through an ide­o­log­i­cal lens. The con­cept of “sharp power,” coined specif­i­cally for China and Rus­sia, has an ob­vi­ous value judg­ment. Many Chi­nese stu­dents and schol­ars ap­ply for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance with a West­ern foun­da­tion, re­garded as a car­rier of West­ern soft power, to fund their stud­ies and re­search. When it comes to fund­ing from China, it be­comes sharp power with the pur­pose of pen­e­trat­ing the West­ern po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Such dou­ble stan­dards are widely ap­plied. West­ern me­dia out­lets, re­gard­less of their par­ti­san at­tach­ment, can freely ex­press sup­port for Ti­betan in­de­pen­dence, or op­po­si­tion against China’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, as they are en­ti­tled to free­dom of speech. When Chi­nese me­dia op­er­ate in West­ern coun­tries, they are of­ten stig­ma­tized as car­ry­ing out pro­pa­ganda on be­half of the Com­mu­nist Party of China and pos­ing a dan­ger to the West­ern value sys­tem.

Po­lit­i­cal dona­tions, an in­grained part of the West­ern po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, can be even trick­ier. A lob­by­ing group rep­re­sent­ing, say, Jew­ish in­ter­ests, will not raise any fuss in any West­ern coun­try. But if a West­ern politi­cian is con­nected to China, the ties will of­ten be in­ter­preted as China buy­ing in­flu­ence, or worse, brib­ing the West­ern sys­tem.

A China con­nec­tion can also be scape­goated in a par­ti­san strug­gle in West­ern coun­tries. Look at the pro­longed Rus­si­a­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Wash­ing­ton. Any­one that isn’t in­sane can tell if it’s re­ally about Rus­sian in­flu­ence on US pol­i­tics.

China-Aus­tralia ties have hit rocks in re­cent years. There are Aus­tralian schol­ars who view their coun­try as a test­ing ground for China’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence. They ar­gue if China can suc­ceed in let­ting down the guard of Aus­tralia, China’s in­flu­ence can be ac­cepted by other West­ern coun­tries.

From a Chi­nese per­spec­tive, Aus­tralia has be­come an ac­tive player on al­most all fronts of ma­jor con­flicts be­tween China and West­ern pow­ers, from the South China Sea – to which Aus­tralia isn’t even a claimant – to so­called China in­fil­tra­tion. State me­dia of Aus­tralia fo­mented a China spy scare in the pub­lic. What­ever the logic of Aus­tralia’s China pol­icy, its be­hav­ior is de­testable to Chi­nese.

Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull caused a stir among Chi­nese when in De­cem­ber he claimed in Chi­nese that “the Aus­tralian peo­ple stand up” in a rad­i­cal pos­ture to­ward China, yet af­ter two months, he adopted a mild tone when com­ment­ing on China be­fore his visit to Wash­ing­ton in Fe­bru­ary. The flip-flop left many scratch­ing their heads over Aus­tralia’s real at­ti­tude to­ward China and whether the coun­try can have a co­her­ent China pol­icy.

Ad­mit­tedly, China’s rise has aroused deep un­easi­ness among West­ern coun­tries and both sides need to adapt to the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics in the process. To some ex­tent, Aus­tralia may test how well China is ac­cepted in the West, yet on the other, Aus­tralia can test how well the West can cope with a ris­ing China.

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