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West trapped in 'sharp power' hysteria

By Andre Vltchek | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-24 07:41

It used to be called "soft power": information and analyses coming from all over the world, including China, Russia or Cuba. It used to be the loose definition for state-sponsored art projects, academic research, or for culture in general, even sports.

Some powerful and independent-minded countries such as China and Russia, and progressive nations in Latin America, have improved, immensely and relatively, in recent years, with their own media outlets and broadcasters positively shocking the world into realizing that there is much more than just one way to interpret issues such as global politics, the environment, culture or even world history.

The former Chinese China Central Television International evolved into China Global TV Network, with a new sleek cosmopolitan look and peaceful, cultural and unprejudiced message. For instance, its coverage of Africa from its Nairobi office, using African reporters, has won worldwide praise.

Russia Today confronted Western propaganda head on, with delightful humor and intellectual brilliance. And Venezuelan TeleSur has brought to the world, with force and also poetry, the very essence of Latin American revolutions.
These channels are now being watched by tens of millions of mainly educated people in the West, as well as in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

The West loves to rant about "freedom", "liberty", "choice" and diversity, so theoretically it should be welcoming this enormous change. Right? Wrong.
As far as the West is concerned, the recent developments and evolution of soft power amount to nothing less than a declaration of war against its tight grip on the world. For the United States-led Western community, it was never really about "freedom of the press"-it was about dominating the global narrative.

As long as the Western media were the ones with the resources and know-how to cover the world, they demanded the rest of the planet "open up" and allow the Western institutions to "freely" brainwash the people in other countries. Now that the emerging and developing countries are able to bring high-quality alternative information and knowledge, the West is closing doors, applying censorship, manipulation and spreading negative propaganda.
Anyone who has dared to contradict the official Western reports is being immediately smeared.

As millions of viewers worldwide have been merrily "migrating" to RT and CGTN, as well as China Daily or New Eastern Outlook, there is no more talk of soft power. It has mutated into a threatening and horrifying "sharp power" hysteria.

Predictably, there are plenty of those ready to take on the task of defining the "monster" for the "record". One of the most colorful jobs was done by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig in their article for Foreign Affairs (Nov 16, 2017), The Meaning of Sharp Power, How Authoritarian States Project Influence: "Contrary to some of the prevailing analysis, the influence wielded by Beijing and Moscow through initiatives in the spheres of media, culture, think tanks, and academia is not a 'charm offensive'... Nor is it an effort to 'share alternative ideas' or 'broaden the debate,' as the editorial leadership at the Russian and Chinese state information outlets suggest about themselves. It is not principally about attraction or even persuasion; instead, it centers on distraction and manipulation."

That definitely must include Chinese pandas, the Peking Opera, Russian ballet and Cuban salsa.

China and Russia are expected to sit down, upright, like good obedient pupils in elementary school classrooms, and let the West teach them about their own history, politics and culture.

However, that will not happen.

Great and peaceful countries of the world will continue to use their soft power to explain themselves. Only when someone dares to charge with a sword will the power used to repel them be truly sharp.

Until then, China, Russia and other countries will stick to pandas and bears, to arts and cutting-edge scientific research for the good of humanity, and to alternative interpretations of local and world news.

The author is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist.

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