What to do about China’s “sharp power”

China is manipulating decision-makers in Western democracies. The best defence is transparency

WHEN a rising power challenges an incumbent one, war often follows. That prospect, known as the Thucydides trap after the Greek historian who first described it, looms over relations between China and the West, particularly America. So, increasingly, does a more insidious confrontation. Even if China does not seek to conquer foreign lands, many people fear that it seeks to conquer foreign minds.

Australia was the first to raise a red flag about China’s tactics. On December 5th allegations that China has been interfering in Australian politics, universities and publishing led the government to propose new laws to tackle “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated” foreign efforts to influence lawmakers (see article). This week an Australian senator resigned over accusations that, as an opposition spokesman, he took money from China and argued its corner. Britain, Canada and New Zealand are also beginning to raise the alarm. On December 10th Germany accused China of trying to groom politicians and bureaucrats. And on December 13th Congress held hearings on China’s growing influence.

This behaviour has a name—“sharp power”, coined by the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based think-tank. “Soft power” harnesses the allure of culture and values to add to a country’s strength; sharp power helps authoritarian regimes coerce and manipulate opinion abroad.

The West needs to respond to China’s behaviour, but it cannot simply throw up the barricades. Unlike the old Soviet Union, China is part of the world economy. Instead, in an era when statesmanship is in short supply, the West needs to find a statesmanlike middle ground. That starts with an understanding of sharp power and how it works.

China has a history of spying on its diaspora, but the subversion has spread. In Australia and New Zealand Chinese money is alleged to have bought influence in politics, with party donations or payments to individual politicians. This week’s complaint from German intelligence said that China was using the LinkedIn business network to ensnare politicians and government officials, by having people posing as recruiters and think-tankers and offering free trips.

Bullying has also taken on a new menace. Sometimes the message is blatant, as when China punished Norway economically for awarding a Nobel peace prize to a Chinese pro-democracy activist. More often, as when critics of China are not included in speaker line-ups at conferences, or academics avoid study of topics that China deems sensitive, individual cases seem small and the role of officials is hard to prove. But the effect can be grave. Western professors have been pressed to recant. Foreign researchers may lose access to Chinese archives. Policymakers may find that China experts in their own countries are too ill-informed to help them.

To ensure China’s rise is peaceful, the West needs to make room for China’s ambition. But that does not mean anything goes. Open societies ignore China’s sharp power at their peril.

Part of their defence should be practical. Counter-intelligence, the law and an independent media are the best protection against subversion. All three need Chinese speakers who grasp the connection between politics and commerce in China. The Chinese Communist Party suppresses free expression, open debate and independent thought to cement its control. Merely shedding light on its sharp tactics—and shaming kowtowers—would go a long way towards blunting them.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

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Giant lizard gives Australian man a fright – then a photo op

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A 1.5m long goanna gave a man a fright when it scaled the outside of his home. Eric Holland had been working in his shed in Thurgoona, New South Wales, when he saw the unexpected visitor darting across his property.

Holland, who managed to snap a picture of the goanna, said: “I saw movement as I came out of the shed and I had a look and thought, bloody hell what is this thing? When I recovered from the shock I went inside and got a camera.”

Goannas are often found in eastern Australia but generally live in the bush. They are typically wary of humans but are considered potentially dangerous on account of their bite. This one, thought to be a lace monitor goanna, hasn’t been spotted since it scampered away. A spokesman for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage said the lace monitor could grow up to two metres in length and weigh up to 20kg.

Lizards on a wall or not, Australia is still a continent/country I want to visit.

Is this a terrible interview from Australia or what?

I was recently interviewed for a blog from Australia. I turn down most requests for interviews as I’ve found interviews produce little return for the interviewee, but do spread the word about the interviewer site. Likely this interview will do the same.

The interview doesn’t tell you much about myself, but then I knew it wouldn’t before I wrote it. Well, to be honest I didn’t write the whole interview. I just answered the prepared questions emailed to me.

Also, at the time of this post, my blog isn’t listed in the interviewers “My Favorite Sites” link. After failing to find my blog listed in “My Favorite Sites” I knew I was in trouble. I was hoping I might make some new connections from Australia, a country at the top of my list for visiting when I make my fortune.

My interview was published on a weekend, which, according to the stats for my site during the past 3 years, has the fewest visitors per day to my blog. True to form, the interview didn’t make a blip on the usual number of visitors per day on a weekend. I thought it might have increased visitors for Sunday, as it is Monday in Australia, but it didn’t. I’ll have to see if it makes any difference during the next day or two.

Here is the link to my interview, which you may enjoy reading it and seeing for yourself if it is a terrible interview. Remember, I wrote it.

Oh, by the way, you can help me visit Australia which each 99 cent purchase of my wonderful humor ebook “Buy This Book. Make Me A Millionaire“,

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available at Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, WHSmith, and other reputable online bookstores around the world.