Leading article: Soft power... its uses and abuses

Related Topics

In 2005, Chinese protesters besieged the Japanese embassy in Beijing to protest against new textbooks that, in China's view, downplayed Japanese atrocities during the Second World War. At their height, the protests drew 10,000 demonstrators; there were skirmishes; the embassy was damaged, and there were times when it appeared that the police would not be able to cope.

The weeks before 4 May – the anniversary of the anti-Western movement of 1919 – have been regarded as perilous by successive Chinese governments. In 1976, disturbances followed protests against the failure of the leadership to commemorate the death of Zhou Enlai with due respect. The anniversary of that protest 13 years later sowed the seed that grew into the student revolt at Tiananmen Square.

In one significant way, however, the protests of three years ago were different. There was evidence that the protesters were summoned by the Chinese authorities, via text messages to their mobile phones. A government was using new technology to mobilise a mass movement to express displeasure with another country.

This was something new and deeply threatening. Then, though, the Government was still able to switch off what it had switched on. New messages called for the protesters to make their point "calmly and rationally". They dispersed as suddenly as they had convened.

Now, the Chinese authorities have addressed the selfsame words to a new wave of anti-Western protesters. How spontaneous their demonstrations were, however, is another matter. Their uniform banners attacked the street protests that followed the Chinese Olympic torch through Europe and the Americas. The hostility shown towards the torch relay in Paris seems to have drawn particular ire, along with President Sarkozy's equivocation about whether he will attend the opening of the Games. In recent days, protests against French interests – mostly Carrefour supermarkets – have been staged in many major Chinese cities.

It also appears, though, that the Chinese government has now put its capacity to mobilise protest on a global footing. Almost identical demonstrations in support of the Beijing Olympics and against the Free Tibet movement were staged at the weekend in Paris, London and Manchester. An internet campaign has also been launched, with a logo that supporters of the Beijing Olympics can attach to their email addresses.

So far, perhaps, so relatively harmless. A government's remote mobilisation of expatriates for the purpose of protest, however, has distinctly sinister implications. In such circumstances, "soft" power can all too quickly turn hard.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teaching Jobs Available NOW-Southport

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Actor Brad Pitt  

The over-50s have the real voting and spending power — so why are we so obsessed with youth?

Stefano Hatfield

Daily catch-up: unbuilt buildings, the new Establishment and polling on Europe

John Rentoul
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London