China’s Soft-Power Grab

China’s Soft-Power Grab

  • Beijing is ramping up support for U.N. and a host of other international organizations, racking up more influence even as Washington is in headlong retreat.

China this week ramped up its crackdown on the press and other pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, handing the world a portrait of Beijing as a menacing and bullying superpower. But at the United Nations headquarters, China is still viewed as a model country.

Beijing is investing tens of millions of dollars in international peacekeeping and mediation missions, increasing its diplomatic support for global health and sustainable development initiatives, and urging Chinese nationals to pursue a life of service at the U.N. and other international organizations. In contrast to the United States, which owes the U.N. more than $1 billion in unpaid dues, China pays its bills on time and in full. With the Trump administration accelerating its retreat from U.N. and other multilateral bodies, the Chinese government is playing offense.

The pandemic has provided China with a rare opportunity to showcase the supposed benefits of authoritarian rule at a time when the world’s leading democratic nation is floundering, and U.S. President Donald Trump is beating a retreat from the international order that America built to manage the world. But some believe that China has squandered a historic chance to advance its cause for global leadership through a secretive and ham-handed initial response to the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and by using the pandemic as an opportunity to strengthen its grip on Hong Kong, flex its muscles in the South China Sea and on Taiwan, and clash with Indian forces on its border.

“Beijing is under assault on the global stage, and the United Nations offers a safe haven,” said Elizabeth Economy, an expert on China at the Council on Foreign Relations. “From Xinjiang to Hong Kong to Huawei, opinion within the advanced economies has turned against China.”