Shanghai – Over the last few weeks, the world has observed a grand PR campaign from Beijing, an attempt to shift the global narrative in China’s favor by touting its containment of COVID-19 as the successful outcome of its political model.
The outgoing message is that China’s anti-coronavirus campaign “demonstrated the notable advantages of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and that Singapore, Japan and South Korea “based their responses on the experience and lessons drawn from China’s successful battle with the virus.”
The other core message within China’s narrative is that “China has acted as a responsible big country” in playing a leadership role to combat the virus based on President Xi Jinping’s concept of a “Community of Shared Future for Mankind.”
China has backed its narrative by launching a “mask diplomacy” campaign, providing medical masks and ventilators as well as dispatching personnel to countries seeking aid.
Taiwan, however, serves as an example to combat the “China model” rhetoric. The island has outperformed China in dealing with the coronavirus without resorting to the strict measures touted by Beijing.
Taiwan has had less than 380 confirmed cases and five deaths as of Wednesday — a remarkable feat considering Taiwan’s proximity to China.
Much to Beijing’s chagrin, praise of Taiwan’s success has provided the island with much-needed global exposure, granting President Tsai Ing-wen a success in her strategy to utilize Taiwan’s identity as a democracy to garner international support.
Taiwan has conducted its own mask diplomacy and, more importantly, countered the idea that China’s anti-coronavirus model is the prime model to follow by providing a more attractive alternative to democracies.
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office has decried Taiwan’s mask diplomacy as “taking the wrong path of ‘worshipping everything foreign’ and engaging in a confrontation with the Motherland.”
Beijing has also criticized Taiwan’s cooperation with the United States as the DPP’s “despicable move and political plot to use the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve independence.”
Ironically, Beijing’s maladroit diplomacy and propaganda are contributing to Taiwan’s success in undercutting China’s PR offensive.
Other than providing defective supplies, exporting medical supplies rather than donating them as claimed, and providing aid according to how “potential recipients have treated China in the past,” the combative speech of Chinese diplomats and its misinformation campaign to deflect blame onto the United States have discredited Xi’s “community of mankind” narrative.
The war of narratives is largely dependent on credibility, which China continues to lack by pushing debunkable narratives and expelling foreign journalists. For the time being, Taiwan will continue to be upheld as an exemplar for its transparency and prompt reaction in contrast with China.
Jo Kim writes on Chinese foreign policy, Taiwan and cross-strait relations. 2020, The Diplomat; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC