By: Jianli Yang – June 19, 2021

China’s Xi Jinping recently told Chinese Communist Party officials to fashion a kinder, gentler image for China. Given the nation’s cratering global public-opinion ratings, his concerns make sense. “We must focus on setting the tone right, be open and confident but also modest and humble, and strive to create a credible, lovable and respectable image of China,” Xi said, as reported by state-run news service Xinhua. Xi may want to project “soft power,” but that could be impossible for a totalitarian state in which all initiatives and messaging are centrally orchestrated.

Africa has become a testing ground for China’s soft-power projections, especially with China’s recent vaccine diplomacy, including the donation of hundreds of types of medical supplies to African countries. Amid the criticism that China is pursuing an exploitative strategy on the continent, propaganda efforts have intensified to portray China as a positive, benign development partner and alleviate suspicions around its burgeoning relations with Africa. The increasing investments in media, the growing number of Confucius Institutes, the organization of grand cultural festivals, and the generous giving of scholarships have all been embraced to establish China’s strong foothold on the continent.

In Africa, Confucius Institutes have increased sharply in number, from one in 2005 to 53 in 2019. Though Confucius Institutes are officially places for learning language and culture, they have been revealed to be platforms for surveillance activities, censoring discussions on sensitive issues and projecting tightly controlled state propaganda. These institutions have not attracted much open criticism in Africa, mainly because African universities generally censor debates and discussions around sensitive issues. Alongside the mushrooming Confucius Institute expansion, Chinese-funded scholarships have also witnessed a massive surge, surpassing those from the United States and United Kingdom even among English-speaking African students. All this is part of China’s growing soft-power investments in the continent… [Continue Reading]