While China avoided losing its trade war with America, it is shooting itself in the foot when it comes to the war of ideas.
China recently resumed broadcasting NBA games, after a long hiatus sparked by an obscure tweet by an official who works for the Houston Rockets.
If China had not responded, no one would have paid any attention to the tweet on Hong Kong. After their hysterical overreaction, the international news media focused even more attention on China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. Not only did China look bad for its actions in Hong Kong, now it also looked bad for trying to squelch free speech in the US. Even if China were to win a limited victory by pressuring a specific group to remain silent, they lose far more by triggering much more negative commentary by the broader international community.
China uses these tactics against many countries. In the end, the Chinese government generally caves in and ends their boycotts. But the price is a steady erosion in public support throughout the world. Polls show that the public in many countries has shifted toward a much less favorable view of China in recent years. Xi’s policy is not working.
I don’t know whether this policy was Xi Jinping’s idea, or if he was advised by people in the Chinese government. But the attempt to pressure foreign countries has backfired badly, and China is losing the soft power war.
When countries do things that are clearly not in their interest, many people look for some sort of rational explanation, some sort of sophisticated and subtle strategy at work. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that even great power governments are not very smart. If a country is acting foolishly, the simplest explanation is that its government made a mistake.