In the Hutong
MIT’s Yasheng Huang notes in Foreign Policy that U.S. diplomacy with China is focused on far too narrow an audience.
But to engage only with official Beijing is no longer enough. It is vital that American leaders learn to communicate more effectively with the Chinese people — lest the conspiracy theorists do the communicating for them.
First, while the government and party remain in control, the means by which decisions are reached is evolving. China is increasingly governed through a process by which consensus is reached among groups and policy makers, or as I like to say “one party, many factions.”
Second, this change has opened a window for groups outside of the government to exert more regular influence on policy making. While China’s leaders and bureaucrats still operate in a system where they are free to ignore public opinion when they forge policy, they are (for a variety of reasons) seeking more input from business leaders, academics, foreign experts, and even the public itself.
Third, this is all taking place in an environment where the role of the web is growing in China, and the permissible scope of discourse is wider than most non-Chinese appreciate.
That Dr. Huang is having to repeat the point makes clear that the Obama administration has lost an opportunity it could have taken from the beginning. That failure is now starting to erode whatever popular support the U.S. had in China, and is postponing the day when that support might be grown.
The hour is not too late, but there is no time to lose. The Chinese people have a growing influence on the conduct of Chinese foreign affairs, and the balance of power in domestic politics is and has always been the key driver of China’s foreign policy. Washington must understand that it is no longer playing to China’s Party elite. It is also playing to the masses, and thus far it has done a poor job.