This was supposed to be a week of hibernation around here, but a little mayhem intrudes in the form of Ursula Gauthier.
In a classic case of reputational self-harm (background and links here), the Chinese authorities manage to focus the world’s attention on three (for starters) of their less-charming characteristics.
1. Their mendacity in attempting to portray anti-Han activity in Xinjiang as a variant of ISIS/Al-Qaeda-style Islamist terrorism, when it is in reality a backlash against heavy-handed cultural and economic domination and subjugation.
2.Their near-psychotic brutishness in attempting to smear someone who humiliates them with the truth.
3. Their (unsurprising-yet-unfathomable) inability to handle a free press, free speech, independent thought, or ideas in general.
Meanwhile a hitherto modestly/little-known French journalist becomes an accidental heroine and gets an undoubtedly well-earned promotion up the career ladder.
Many commentators like to say that Beijing doesn’t care about its image overseas – only its ability to control at home absolutely. As this case shows, there’s no clear separation between the two. When the narrative offshore deviates sufficiently from their own delusional fiction, they freak out.
It is hard to say how much (if, in theory, at all) China’s economy will be in a mess in 2016, because the data on growth, inflation, unemployment, bad debts and everything else are pretty much falsified. But the growing prickliness, intolerance, clampdowns and general frantic tell-tale signs of underlying panic all suggest that it is going to be a Bad Soft-Power Year.