Bypass Beijing’s Propaganda by Accessing Chinese Social Media
Almost 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, “Winning without fight is the best strategy” – underscoring the importance of soft power. Some 200 years later, Chanakya propounded the theory of Saam (persuasion) for winning without offence, and prioritised it over Dand (punishment or display of hard power).
At the end of the Cold War, Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye explained soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.”
Recently, the Chinese embassy in India contested New Delhi’s position on Doklam border standoff by releasing a YouTube video through its political counsellor Li Ya. However, the Indian embassy in China avoided engaging in similar display of public diplomacy.
China’s Propaganda Tactics
Many negative stories about India have been published in both English and Chinese languages, meant both for the Indian government and people. The Indian media, obviously, doesn’t have access to most of the ordinary Chinese, due to linguistic barriers.
For all the news related to India, they generally rely on online translation tools or on netizens ‘volunteering’ to render the same in Chinese language. Much propaganda may be discerned in the ‘translated’ output. Recently, video clips of Indian and Chinese soldiers scuffling at the Doklam border were leaked in Indian social media.
“They are painting a false picture, airing false accusations,” says Ashok K Kantha, Director at the Institute of Chinese Studies and former ambassador to Beijing.
Obviously, selective translations, with a hidden agenda, may be easily used to antagonise the Chinese.
Crux of the matter is that no one can guarantee impossibility of violent border skirmishes or even an all-out war, as governments may employ such tactics for various motivations; however, the same governments need to mobilise conducive public opinion before going to war.
Break Through the Great Firewall of China
Today’s China is not Mao’s ‘revolutionary’ China. In today’s globalised world order, the Chinese society, by and large, is a modern and well-educated one, with almost half the population being middle class, naturally vocal on government policies and wary of any unnecessary war.
It is even more true in case of China, as the Chinese middle class doesn’t trust the state-run media.
The Indian embassy in China, which has access to Wei Bo (a popular microblogging website in China) account, should publish articles and release videos at online platforms of China to clarify its position.
India media should prominently debate the futility of war and the same should be translated into Chinese for our neighbours’ consumption. Similarly positive news related to India circulating in Chinese media, should also be translated for Indians.
Establishing People-to-People Contact
Most importantly, people-to-people contacts should be encouraged and the study of Chinese language in India too should be promoted to have a better understanding of the neighbours’ language and thought.
Additionally, many China scholars, Chinese learning students and traders dealing with China, interact with their Chinese friends using social media platforms like WeChat and QQ; such people-to-people contacts may go a long way in developing mutual understanding and overcoming preconceived notions.
A long-term plan should be chalked out in order to be able to objectively inform the ordinary Chinese about our stand on various issues. War could never be a solution for the two nuclear neighbours, hence the circumstances entail just and tactical leverage of soft power to avoid confrontations for the sake of common good.
(The writer is Assistant Professor at Chinese Department, Sikkim (Central) University. He can be reached @irfankhanjnu. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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