BEIJING — A top Chinese government spokesman on Friday dismissed concerns over Beijing’s overseas influence as discriminatory, Cold War-era thinking, in a rare instance of a top official addressing growing negative sentiment in Western capitals, academia and media over China’s covert reach.
Wang Guoqing, spokesman for the advisory body to China’s ceremonial legislature, said Beijing’s ability to communicate to the world has grown along with its national power. But Wang said China’s efforts to showcase its “true image” have been held to a double standard and unfairly criticized.
Australia has been roiled in the past year by allegations of a far-reaching Chinese government effort to infiltrate and sway national politics as well as Australia’s large overseas Chinese community. Last month, FBI director Christopher Wray said U.S. law enforcement was “watching warily” the activities of Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-funded educational and cultural centers in the United States and other countries.
Scrutiny of Chinese influence efforts — labeled “sharp power” by U.S. think tanks and academics — has risen markedly following revelations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Answering questions from state-run media two days before the opening of the annual legislative session, Wang told reporters that criticism of China’s overseas activities was driven by “prejudice, discrimination and enmity.”
“As our comprehensive national strength rises, it’s an undisputed fact that these years we’ve also expanded our efforts to communicate overseas,” Wang said. “But this is not just to showcase our own image, but also to help the international community better understand China in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner.”
Wang said Western countries call their own activities “soft power” or “smart power” but decry similar efforts by China as laden with sinister motives.
“We regret to see that for some people in the West, their bodies have entered the 21st century but their brains are stuck in the Cold War era,” Wang said.
He also defended China’s record on trade, saying it lowered tariffs and opened up its market after joining the World Trade Organization, and lashed out at the United States a day after President Donald Trump announced plans to raise tariffs on metals imports in a move seen at least partially aimed at China.
“What concerns many WTO members is precisely the United States, which adopts unilateralism and speaks with a unilateral voice,” Wang said.
Economic issues typically dominate the opening day of the annual, two-week session of the National People’s Congress, which meets concurrently with its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, of which Wang is the spokesman.
However, this year’s session is expected to be overshadowed by plans to amend the constitution to remove term limits and allow President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely.