quarta-feira, 28 de outubro de 2015

Beijing starts to press its own narrative on the world

Perhaps somewhere in our universe of infinite possibilities there is a planet on which Robert Mugabe, who has presided mostly ruinously over Zimbabwe for decades, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here on planet earth, he must be content with the Chinese “equivalent” — the so-called Confucius Prize, bequeathed by a Hong Kong-based association.

The committee of what has been dubbed the “anti-Nobel Peace Prize” praised Mr Mugabe, 91, for his nation-building and service to pan-Africanism. The prize was established five years ago in petulant response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident who has advocated greater democracy in China. Previous recipients include Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro. The choice of Mr Mugabe cements the prize’s reputation as a one-fingered salute to western values.

The award is a small, and somewhat bizarre, example of a broader trend. Slowly but surely, China’s Communist party is seeking to establish a parallel narrative to the western-centric view of the world. For most of the past century, American concepts of democracy, the sovereignty of the individual and the rule of law have been seen as universal. China is beginning to challenge that. Its creeds, absorbed over thousands of years of keeping a continental-sized state intact, tend more towards stability and strong government. For Beijing, the past 30 years demonstrate that material progress and competent leadership are more important than democracy in the creation of human welfare.

Beijing is steadily amassing the wherewithal to tell its story. From 2011, CCTV, the state broadcaster, began a huge expansion of its English-language programming, opening 70 bureaux across the globe. Since 2004, hundreds of Confucius Institutes, established to promote Chinese language and culture and affiliated with the Ministry of Education, have sprouted in dozens of countries. Private citizens, too, are getting in on the act. In 2009, Rao Jin, a student outraged at the US channel’s coverage of Tibet, set up Anti-cnn.com to catalogue the alleged lies and biases of western media. Partly as a result, says Martin Jacques, author ofWhen China Rules the World, the west’s perception of China is shifting. Ten years ago, he says, few people had heard of Zheng He, the eunuch maritime explorer whose massive expeditionary forces reached Africa in the 15th century. Now Zheng’s voyages are prompting awe.

Less esoterically, until recently few people were aware of China’s nine-dash line, a cartographic loop that encloses virtually the entire South China Sea. Now the line is being used to strengthen Beijing’s claim over that crucial waterway, where it is building artificial islands and challenging the narrative of US-guaranteed freedom of navigation.

Beijing’s desire to construct its own version of events is a predictable consequence of its rising clout. It matches its action in other spheres. In finance, it wants an alternative currency, the renminbi, to challenge the dollar. New organisations, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are being established in parallel to the western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions.

Bestowing a prize on Mr Mugabe reveals a desire to side with anyone, no matter how flawed, who shuns the western world view. True, the Confucius Prize is not official. Mr Mugabe even had the gall to turn it down. Yet, as Orville Schell, a veteran China watcher, says, no Chinese organisation borrowing the Confucian brand would dare award a prize without a nod from Beijing. Mr Schell also recalls attending a dinner last year in the Great Hall of the People for former US president Jimmy Carter. The gathering was sparsely attended. Xi Jinping, China’s president, was instead hosting a dinner for Mr Mugabe, where he said the two countries’ friendship was “forged during the . . . glorious days of fighting together against imperialism, colonialism and hegemony”.

There were subtle hints of China’s story­telling efforts during Mr Xi’s recent visit to London. In his speech to parliament, he praised his hosts for establishing a parliament in the 13th century, but then said 3,300 years before that China had founded a state that “put people first” and promoted what he called the rule of law. No matter that the emperor he was referring to was mythical.

China wants to tell the world that its time is coming. Yet Mr Schell thinks that effort is hobbled by Beijing’s other narrative: that it is a victim of 150 years of humiliation. “They’re an economic global power. The idea that they’re a victimised third world country is strangely schizophrenic,” he says. Beijing, then, is caught between its old self-image as a wounded giant and its new one as a risen power able to enforce its version of events. The award to Mr Mugabe shows that this transition is not yet complete.

David Pilling

Fonte: FT