Their Own Worst Enemy

of The Atlantic asks how China, with its vast propaganda machine, manages to do such a consistently poor job of advertising itself to the rest of the world:

Why does a society that, like America, impresses most people who spend time here project such a poor image and scare people as much as it attracts them? Why do China’s leaders, who survive partly by listening to their own people, develop such tin ears when dealing with the outside world? I don’t pretend to have a solution. But here are some possible explanations, and some reasons why the situation matters to people other than the misunderstood Chinese.

There is no politer way to put the main problem than to call it “ignorance.” Most Americans are parochial, but (surprise!) most Chinese and their leaders are more so. …

The damage China does to itself by its clumsy public presentation is obvious—though apparently not yet obvious enough to its leadership. For outsiders, the central problem is that a country that will inevitably have increasing and perhaps dominant influence on the world still has surprisingly little idea of how the world sees it. That, in turn, raises the possibility of blunders and unnecessary showdowns, and in general the predicament of a new world power stomping around, Gargantua-like, making onlookers tremble. The world has known this predicament before. It is what the previously established powers have feared about America, starting a hundred years ago and with periodic recurrences since then, most recently starting in March of 2003. Maybe that puts America in a good position to help China take this next step.”

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