Understanding China requires understanding CPC: Xi

To understand today’s China, one must learn to understand the Communist Party of China (CPC), Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated at a conference on understanding China on Thursday. Experts said that such a signal, sent at a time when the West’s anti-China narrative, shepherded by the US, is doubling down to portray antagonism between China and the West, should serve as a reminder for the West that it is time for them to discard their prejudice and understand China, and also it should have the courage to understand how the Chinese system works. Only such an understanding will endow them with wisdom to cooperate with China, peacefully co-exist with China and create a future together with China, they said.

As China began to play a more prominent role in global affairs, it is at a point to reverse its disadvantage in global discourse arena. Facing a more hawkish anti-China campaign in the West, China’s counteroffensive against Western disinformation and smear campaign will only grow more prominent and fierce, said experts.

When delivering a speech via video at the opening ceremony of the 2021 Understanding China Conference (Guangzhou) in Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong Province, Xi said that “as I have pointed out, To understand today’s China , one must learn to understand the CPC.”

The world is experiencing changes unseen in a century which, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought the world into a period of fluidity and transformation, Xi said in the speech.

It is all the more important for us to exchange views, have more interactions and cooperation, and contribute our wisdom and strengths to a joint response to global challenges at such a juncture, he noted.

The President put forward such an idea earlier in June when replying to a letter from overseas students in Peking University.

Zhang Shuhua, director of the institute of political sciences of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that thanks to the CPC’s leadership, Chinese people realized independence and gained wealth. “As the largest ruling party in the world, it is impossible to understand today’s China without understanding the history of the CPC. The CPC is a political party that exercises overall leadership and represents the will of all the people. It is fundamentally different from foreign political parties that represent the interests of some people,” Zhang said.

Melnikov Ivan Ivanovich, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, said at the conference that China’s action, its way of thinking, and the CPC’s everlasting power perfect itself to gain new development. “The key to understanding China’s achievements and the Chinese way is to understand China from multiple perspectives.”

Long standing prejudice

Yet despite China becoming an emerging power in the world and has been playing a more and more prominent role in global affairs, the West still gets China wrong on several fronts. Analysts pointed out that the West, with the most vocal one being the US, has been dominated by anti-China rhetoric, as the flaws of Western-style democracy and political system were laid bare by partisan squabbling and short-termism while the advantage of China’s system has tamed COVID-19, allowing its economy to rebound quickly from the pandemic, and eradicate poverty.

A recent example was the bickering between China and the US about where the coronavirus originated from, which was started by some US politicians who publicly said the virus was made in a Wuhan lab, despite no scientific evidence to support such a claim. The smear campaign was also targeted at China’s sending COVID-19 vaccine to countries in need, saying it is China’s “vaccine diplomacy” to win the hearts of recipient countries.

From a geopolitical perspective, the US, which views Beijing as its major strategic rivalry in every arena, has always clung to the “China threat” theory, portraying the CPC at odds with Western-style “democracy.” The most recent example was US President Joe Biden marshalling allies into the “Summit for Democracy” this month, which is seen by analysts as Washington’s attempt to form a small clique to confront China and Russia.

For a long time, the mainstream Western political narrative of China had been based on a very shallow and biased paradigm–that is, democracy versus autocracy. The West defined democracy and autocracy, Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times.

They defined the multi-party system and universal suffrage as the only standard of democracy, believing that it was a universal value and that only by adopting such a model could China become a “normal country” and be accepted by the so-called international community led by the West, said Zhang, noting that under the guidance of the discourse, the Chinese political system is portrayed as authoritarian, and then the West can constantly question when China will carry out political reform. “As long as you do not accept the Western political logic, then you are supporting authoritarian.”

Yet not all Westerners are blinded by lies concocted by anti-China forces. Some foreigners who understand and been living in China have chosen to defy the West’s smears and speak the truth about China. They found out they had also been victimized by the smear campaign.

Earlier this year, many Western mainstream media, including the BBC, began attacks on foreign influencers in China, calling them “foreigners in China’s disinformation drive,” simply because they posted videos praising China’s rapid development and defending the country’s policy in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Navina Heyden, a German blogger who likes Chinese culture and who often shares her accounts of China, and Fernando Munoz Bernal, a Colombian English teacher, were among those being attacked.

The Western public has little knowledge about China’s history; hence, they don’t understand the moral and legal justification of China’s political norms. In many areas China is not active in presenting itself ” transparently” (in the way that the West considers). China’s response can be easily misinterpreted as aggression by western media and some politicians, Heyden told the Global Times.

“My motivation is simple: lies from media and officials in Western countries are what led us to the war in Iraq, yet lies about China are being spewed to the world. I can connect the dots. I must speak up,” Fernando told the Global Times.

Discourse strategy

As Xi pointed out during the group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in May, China needs “to develop a voice in international discourse that matches China’s comprehensive national strength and international status,” and strive to shape a reliable, admirable and respectable image of China.

China started to open up and develop to shake off its history of being bullied by the West. The rise of the country then brought uncertainties to the international community, which were curious about where China was headed, Zheng Yongnian, a professor of political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), said at the Understanding China Conference.

For years, some countries repeatedly attempted to impose its logic on China, advocating that one country will be a bully if it grows stronger. “Nowadays, it is more important for the West to understand China, understand that the country has its own logic of civilization,” Zheng said.

To help the world form a better understanding of China, the country is also trying to refine its “discourse strategy,” such as cultivating a narrative to communicate with foreign audiences and speak out against Western propaganda.

Over the past year, China’s communications have become more forward to respond to growing criticism and attacks from the US and its allies in line with a shifting geopolitical environment. It is slightly less risk-adverse and restrained than before, Tom Fowdy, a British political and international relations analyst, told the Global Times.

As the country adopts a tougher strategy to defend its rights and speak out in international society, “wolf warrior diplomacy,” a term used by West to disparage China’s tough-toned diplomats, became a major focus in the West.

Outspoken Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye said during an interview in June that he is proud to be endowed with the title “wolf warrior” and is determined to stand in the way of “mad dogs” that attack China.

Fowdy also said that the term “wolf warrior” is a cliche invented by the US and media elite to caricature and misrepresent China’s own response to relentless hostility against it. “The term creates artificial boundaries to distract people from the reality that hostility has always come exclusively and always from one direction,” he said.

Good or bad governance

The West is using its hegemonic advantage in the battleground of public opinion to stigmatize China and forge a negative narrative of China. This has damaged the external public opinion environment for China’s development. It has come to a point that China must reverse the situation. As a result, the ideological and discourse battle between China and the West, or specifically, China and the US, will only escalate.

British scholar David Ferguson, who was awarded for promoting cultural exchanges through literature translations, said at the conference that “The Chinese people may think some people in the international community hold unfavorable views of China because they misunderstand China. But the real problem lies in some anti-China forces in the West. They do not misunderstand China, but have been plotting to create a hostile environment against China. It is a mistake for the Chinese people to think that they can remedy their hostility by logical and rational explanations,”Ferguson said.

Although China’s influence on international discourse has improved in recent years, analysts pointed out that there’s still room for the country to improve its communication strategies with the rest of the world.

Fowdy suggested that China should not be silent to criticism against it, but must also refine the quality of the message which makes it so easy to misrepresent. It should focus less on making threats or hectoring statements, but focus instead on disseminating talking points which aim to shape and lead the conversation accordingly, which is how the US communication system works.

Experts said that as China is trying to build better communication with the world, the rest of the world, especially the West, should also discard their prejudice and better understand China.

Zhang said that China has subverted the dominant paradigm of Western political science through original research. The Chinese people believe that if there are only two kinds of political systems in the world, they can only be “good governance or bad governance.” They believe that the paradigm of “democracy or autocracy” should be replaced by the paradigm of “good or bad governance.” Otherwise, people cannot understand China, or the West, or the world.

It is good for the West to understand China and they should have the courage to understand how the Chinese model works and what most Chinese think of their country, according to Zhang.

Authors: Cao Siqi, Chen Qingqing, Zhao Yusha, Global Times

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