China’s rise to being the world’s most powerful state makes for some awkward posturing from Chinese leadership. China has taken a position in world affairs as a leader of developing, post-colonial states but this means that China’s leaders have to play down their own neo-colonial ambitions (securing diplomatic support and resources for continued economic expansion). This makes for some interesting interactions between China and other developing states, especially in Africa.
Western discourse continually paints China as a boogie-man and a threat to freedom and liberty. If China’s rise continues on its current trajectory then its narrative of the Middle Kingdom as a developing post-colonial country will become unsustainable, but it’s hard to see it dropping its role as a counterbalance to Western powers (Huntington FTW!). Managing the perception of China’s role in the world will be a priority for both Western powers and China itself, and with the West’s massive head-start in global cultural presence and the fact that English has become the lingua franca China is already on the back foot. As China continues to expand economically and militarily, its soft power needs to catch up. I’m not sure that the current Chinese narrative about its role in world affairs can be maintained, and with similar pressures growing internally an evolution of China’s portrayal of itself seems both necessary and inevitable.
NB: I got thinking about this subject again when I uploaded an old paper I wrote which was an analysis of China’s official discourse on its engagement with Africa. The full text is in PDF form under the “Essays and Papers” section at the top of this blog, if anyone wants to read it.