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ZhaiHuixia:How to resolve the “China-threat theory”


When the “two meetings” are held every spring, China’s military budget catches the attention of foreign mass media, and the “China-threat theory” isrepeated.Issues such as the lack of transparency inChina’s military expenditures, changes in Chinese military policies, and progress inmilitary research in China, become the tools of mass media to attract readers.


What is a “threat”? This question is the same if we replace the word “threat” with “security.” They are both subjectively judged. A country such as the U.S., despite its having started two recent wars and despite itsmilitary budget being half of the world’s, still feels insecure. A country such as Mexico, on the other hand, with a population of over a hundred million, a territory spanningtwo oceans, and an army, navy and air force less than three hundred thousand in active duty, with weapons that are not advanced, does not claim that it is insecure and needs military expansion.


The so-called “threat” is fictitious


There is no objective standard to define “threat.”The “threat” is only what the public thinks is “threatening.” Public opinion is not fact. It is neither true nor objective. It is spread, twisted, enlarged, shrunk,or even fabricated by mass media. The “China-threat theory” is just a creation of mass media.


This fiction appears in both traditional print media and new internet media. The public is fed the “China-threat theory” by mass media. As a result, China’s image is tarnished, and the fiction, as usual when repeated often enough, is taken by some as fact.


The media’screationof a “China threat” may be traced to the media war. The war to influence media has become an important phenomenon in contemporary international politics. Media warfare happens every day. As a growing power,China has been thinking about the following questions in recent years: how to protect and improve the image of the country, how to better understand the foreign media, and how to make good use of itsown resourcesin external promotion.


Protecting the country’s image


International relationsis part of social existence, not only asobjective material property, but also assubjective identity property, speech property, and language property. As the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure said, “Our thought – apart from its expression in words – is only a shapeless and indistinct mass.” In an era where media is all-pervading, speech has become a basicpower. The world of meaning forms in speech, and the power of the material appears in speech. The so-called objective material fact tends to become aslave of speech.


Therefore, to a certain extent, international relationsis also a world constructed by speech. Only ananalysis of speech leads to the recognition to the nature of the world and,therefore, to the reason of the material becoming people’s need and desire. Protecting the country’s image cannot consist only ofresponding to foreign media reports or to criticism from foreigneditorials. China has to rely on collective power and engage in this media warfare systematically and comprehensively. Only thencan it be effectivein protecting the country’s image. And these are the steps that China should take in this warfare:


1.A media database about the “China-threat theory” should be built. Influential media in targeted areas, including traditional and new media, may be selected. After foreign media reports which are related to Chinahave been collected, the contents of the related news and topicscan be analyzed. By sorting and organizing the information of the related articles, such as time, attitude, keywords, and comments, anauthoritative database of China-related public opinion can be formed.


Much research and sorting of information should be done regarding public opinion about the “Chinathreat,” China’s responsibilities, China’s opportunities, the Beijing Consensus, China’s tough stance, and so on.


2. Through the analysis of this database, judgments on attitudes towards China and trends in foreign media reporting can be made. These judgmentswill help build an observation system about China’s stereotyped imagesin foreign media. China’s policymakers can use these images as primary references for decision-making, in order to carry out the country's external information dissemination and national image building.


3. A mechanism for guiding foreignpublic opinion aboutChina should be established. Through an analysis of the conditions of spread of different countries’ public opinion related to China, the relationship between building a country’s image and the different overseas dissemination platforms, channels, and contentcan be analyzed. Using these as the bases, various resources controlled by China can be integrated andChina can plan how to act simultaneously onoffense and defense. Thus can be formed a coherentmechanism inguiding overseas public opinion on China.


Using resources to create topics


Nowadays, in the growing emphasis on "Go Out," people think of how to “go out” and “go well.” Facing the so-called “China-threat theory” which appears periodically, what China should do is not only to refute and fight back, but should cautiously learn to talk and communicate with various cultures and to interact with various media and the external public. It should also fully utilize its resources to guide and create the topics around which news and opinions can revolve. If this is done, China can build a good image and create a friendly culture of public opinion. It cannot afford to ignore it.


As Michel Foucault, a French structuralistphilosopher stated in his book "The Archaeology of Knowledge," the “truth” of discourse does not depend on what is being talked about, but on who is talking and how it is beingtalked about


The discourse about the “Chinathreat”derives its power not from itself, but through its spread. Listening to others’ opinions and collecting and analyzing them dispassionatelyand objectively are the starting points of all research on public opinion.


The constructivist theory of international relations holdsthat culture is a social knowledge which is common and interrelated among individuals. Culture constructs identity for thebenefit of a person, so that the person can act. Culture has the ability to self-recycle. Culture is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A country’s image itself is a concept comprising interaction, society, and culture.


In building a country’s good image, how to make good interactions should be the focus of the process. Before engaging in interaction, a country should first be a qualified listener; this needs a team withinthe country to do a lot of basic research. Therefore, in the process of conductingmedia warfare, China should use itscollective power to form a team to guideforeign public opinion. China should also do a lot of preparation as soon as possible to establisha united guiding mechanism. These are the necessary conditions to resolve the so-called “China-threat theory.”



The author ZhaiHuixia is a specially invited commentator of the China Energy Fund Committee and an Assistant Researcher inthe Centre for International Communication Studies of the China International Publishing Group.

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