Before Chinese Leader’s UK Visit, Manufactured Confidence

By Juliet Song
Juliet Song
Juliet Song
October 19, 2015 Updated: October 19, 2015

Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, will embark on a state visit to the United Kingdom this week. Ahead of Xi’s trip, a mysterious Chinese production studio has released a polished propaganda video extolling the virtues of British and Chinese ties—a move that is fast becoming ritual.

In “Britain meets China,” Fuxing Road Studio (pronounced “foo-sing”) explores the China-UK relationship in education, the iconic London Taxi Company, and soccer. Published to Youtube on Oct. 16, the slickly cut five and half minute video features shots of children in China and Britain, and two Chinese students praising Xi Jinping for developing soccer, a “shared passion” with the UK. It bears all the hallmarks of China’s state propaganda apparatus, and appears to show some of the insecurities around China’s diplomacy with the West.

The video was released on Oct. 16, but began being heavily promoted in time for Xi’s visit to the UK from Oct. 20 to Oct. 23. The Chinese leader and his wife Peng Liyuan will stay at Buckingham Palace, the residence of British royalty, and will attend a state banquet hosted by reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II. Xi will also meet with in private with Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour Party leader.

All governments presumably care to some extent about their reputation.
— Christopher Ford , Former diplomat and scholar of Chinese political culture

In the lead up to the visit, British media and human rights organizations have condemned the UK for vigorously courting closer economic ties with China while simultaneously ignoring the Communist Party’s gross human rights violations and ethnic suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang. Judging by the video and other statements, that’s just how China likes it.

‘Desperate intensity’

The recent video features London Taxi Company staff effusing gratitude to Chinese auto company Geely for saving them from bankruptcy and keeping their famous black cabs on the streets (“one of the best things that could have happened to the company”). The take-away message? Britain and China enjoy a healthy cultural exchange and economic integration, and are “closer than you think.”

But videos and public pronouncements making a show of China’s power and confidence belie a more insecure foundation, as alluded to by Christopher Ford, a former diplomat and scholar of Chinese political culture, in his recent book.

“All governments presumably care to some extent about their reputation,” writes Ford in “China Looks at the West.” “Few seem to do so, however, with the desperate intensity of the modern CCP regime, which on occasion acts less like the steward of a justifiably self-confident ancient civilization than an insecure adolescent with a chip on its shoulder.”

Along with the video highlighting China’s economic might over to its supplicant countries, it subtly normalizes the Communist Party’s mass organization, the Young Pioneers, being part of the schooling system (seven year olds are mostly pictured wearing the red kerchiefs of a bygone era.)

American Version

“Britain meets China” was also virtually identical in format to a video rolled out before Xi Jinping made his first formal state visit to the United States a month earlier.

I had no idea that they were going to clip it here, there and everywhere.
— Alexander Sherr, International relations student at Peking University

Set in the American deep south, the video titled “When China meets Carolina” is centered around the story of a Chinese firm saving Greenfield Industries, a cutting tools company based in South Carolina, from bankruptcy.

A forced sense of family atmosphere is strong. Sherrie Carter, a worker at Greenfield, was initially worried that Chinese owner would “bring their own people and exclude us from what is going on.” But thanks to the takeover by TDC Cutting Tools Inc, Carter is still with Greenfield, and is able to afford her daughter and grandson’s college fees.

“What would surprise you about American and Chinese citizens is that we’re more alike than we’re different,” said Carrie Tucker, a member of Carolina’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

‘I had no idea’

The mastermind behind all these videos is Fuxing Road Studio, whose other viral hit, “Who is Xi Dada?” has young foreign students in China lavishing praise on Xi Jinping. A young Austrian describes Xi as “so cute,” for example. Another says “If my husband is like him, I will be happy.”

But the studio had to dig deep to secure the required praise, according to interviewees.

Alexander Sherr, 23, who was captured calling Xi “very well-educated,” told Reuters that he was mainly asked questions not related to the Chinese leader in a 20-minute interview.

“I had no idea that they were going to clip it here, there and everywhere, and then turn it into a 3-minute and 30 second propaganda piece,” said Sherr, an international relations student at Peking University.

The Fuxing Road Studio soft propaganda videos have been attacked by Chinese netizens, too, because the published videos to YouTube, a website banned in China.

‘Indignantly self-assertive’

The show of confidence in the video was mirrored in the performance of Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, in a BBC interview with the journalist Andrew Marr. In the context of national security concerns over China’s potential involvement in the UK’s nuclear infrastructure, Marr remarked that: “China wouldn’t allow a foreign power to built her nuclear station.”

Liu retorted: “Do you have the money, first? Do you have technology? Do you have expertise? If you have all these, we certainly would want to have cooperation with you, like French.” (Liu then added: “But I think UK is strong in other areas.”)

As Christopher Ford writes, official China seems: “Endlessly preoccupied by its appearance and how others see it, insisting that it is smarter and better than its peers but privately terrified that this is untrue, self-righteously independent yet frightened of inadequacy and desperate to belong, and by turns moodily glum and indignantly self-assertive.”

Juliet Song