Friday

15th Dec 2017

EUobserved

The EU and China's velvet power

  • A forum hosted by the People's Daily included talks on media innovation and on support to China's One Belt - One Road initiative. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

One would not really imagine the EU inviting journalists from some 100 countries to present its development programmes and ask the media to help it promote its projects and external policy.

It would probably be accused of mixing information with spin and trying to impose European views and interests on other parts of the world.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But China did exactly that last week. The People's Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, organised a "Media Cooperation Forum on Belt and Road" in Beijing.

The objective was clear: wooing world media to support China's economic diplomacy and world view.

The One Belt - One Road initiative - also called the New Silk Road - was launched in 2013. It is a massive plan to invest and build infrastructure in Central and South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The belt is the inland part, mainly for transport and energy. The road is a maritime route from China to Africa and the Mediterranean, with the development of port infrastructures.

China has put $40 billion on the table and has created two international banks to fund projects: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has more than 50 countries participating, including several European countries; and the New Development Bank in cooperation with Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa.

The 21st century Silk Road is a way for China to open new markets to its companies at a time of slowing domestic growth. It is also a way to expand its interests and influence on a global scale.

In a roadmap for future EU-China relations published in late June, the European Commission mentioned One Belt - One Road four times in 18 pages.

It said the EU-China Connectivity Platform - a programme on transport - "should create synergies between EU policies and projects and China's 'One Belt - One Road' initiative".

It added that "co-operation with China on its 'One Belt - One Road' initiative should be dependent on China fulfilling its declared aim of making it an open platform which adheres to market rules and international norms".

What the commission may have missed is that the New Silk Road is well under way. China has already signed agreements with more than 30 countries. According to figures given by Chinese authorities, more than $1.4 billion (€1.25 billion) has been invested so far and 60,000 jobs have been created around the world.

But the Beijing forum showed something else. By sending engineers, construction machines and infrastructure companies, China pictures itself as a benefactor for the world. China is projecting its soft power and creating an attractive narrative.

'A common treasure'

China and Russia, the two main powers that dispute the Western-led world order, use different methods.

While Russia disrupts the existing order with covert action, unilateral modification of international borders and disinformation, China seems to use the order to advance its goals through messages that are meant to be non-controversial.

A senior party official told the forum participants that One Belt - One Road was "in line with globalisation", which itself "is the trend of the future".

In a message to the forum, Chinese president Xi Jinping said China wanted to build a "mutually beneficial and cooperative network" and that the initiative would "honour the interests of all".

"The Silk Road is a common treasure for people from all over the world," Xi said, while other officials repeated that it was aimed at "peace and prosperity".

With the Silk Road, China portrays itself as a velvet power.

Even China's expansionism in the South China Sea is described as a part of the country's effort for "harmony". Supporting Beijing's rebuttal of a recent international court's arbitration is considered as being an effort for "consensus" building.

While Russian media abroad - Russia Today or Sputnik - and activists on social media are tools to destabilise the West, Chinese state media is pushing a benevolent image of its home nation on to the international scene.



A large part of the Beijing forum took place in the People's Daily's ultra-modern tower, with discussions on new technologies and media innovation.

The People's Daily itself is an interesting model of development, with more than 650 million readers online, corporate blogging platforms and even virtual reality and data mining projects.

'Go forward hand in hand'

"Media plays an essential role in communicating information, enhancing mutual trust and building consensus," Xi said in his message, adding that the Beijing forum provided "a platform for media from many countries to engage in dialogue and practice cooperation".

"We hope to utilise this platform to promote the development of international relations, deliver public opinion and deepen mutual trust, as well as to push forward the progress of the Belt and Road Initiative," he said.

Xi, and the whole event, made clear how the Chinese government hopes the media will promote China's actions and views around the world.

After the round tables, the People's Daily officially signed a so-called "International Coalition for new Media Cooperation for One Belt - One Road" with 15 media groups, including some from Portugal and the Netherlands.

The aim of the "coalition", the text said, was to "build consensus against misunderstanding and mistrust … establish information sharing … [and] improve culture harmonisation".



"We will persevere in media innovation [and] go forward hand in hand," the text said.

No European narrative

What was not said is that media development and "communication information" in China concerns official media only. The day before the forum, Chinese authorities shut several independent news websites for failing to rely exclusively on official reports.

Europe already knows that China's global activism poses a challenge, as the current discussions about China's market economy status or Chinese dumping of cheap goods have shown.

But it is also faced with a power that offers its own narrative, including to Europe and parts of the world with historical ties to Europe, and provides the means to circulate it.

The EU, on the other hand, not only seems to have no narrative to tell the world, but is now, after Brexit, even looking for a new story to tell itself.

EU to tweak rules on Chinese 'dumping'

The EU Commission has tried to fudge the issue of whether China is a “market economy” amid efforts to protect European industry from cheap exports.

EU envisages China free-trade pact

In a new five-year strategy, the EU executive aims to attract Chinese investment to Europe and to agree a free-trade agreement under conditions.

Opinion

Why the China-EU summit must succeed

The annual China-EU summit has just become even more crucial to Europe and the world, following the Brexit referendum.

Leaders shy away from China market status debate

Leaders are sitting down for the EU-China summit, but the crucial issue of China's market economy status will not be discussed officially. It still dominates industry's thinking on the relationship.

Opinion

Time to gear up European climate diplomacy in Beijing

The launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank heralds a new era of cross-continental financing for future energy markets, but a push for gas and failures to abide by good governance could doom the potential for a better tomorrow.

Hungary-Serbia railway launched at China summit

The flagship project of China's increased presence in central and eastern Europe was launched on Tuesday, following an EU probe as a summit in Budapest raises questions on Beijing's influence.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Estonia completes two out of three priority digital bills
  2. EU countries are not 'tax havens', parliament says
  3. Tech firms' delays mean EU needs rules for online terror
  4. Slovak PM: Human rights are not a travel pass to EU
  5. British PM limps to EU capital after Brexit defeat
  6. US pleads for clarity on Brexit aviation 'black hole'
  7. Tusk migration note prompts institutional 'hysteria'
  8. Migration looms over summit, as Africa pledges fall short

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'