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Xi Jinping, his wife and soft power

imageWhichever way you look at it the recent visit by the Chinese premier to the US was a masterpiece of PR and delicate diplomacy. Back in China many are bemused by the offers of 8,000 peacekeepers, the media frenzy over haute couture and promises of poverty reduction. My friend from Beijing who is visiting the UK over the National Day holidays was brutally frank. “We just don’t get it sometimes. What has what Peng Liyuan (Xi’s wife) wears got to do with US/China relations?” He knows the answer of course but fashion soft power and charity PR are a little alien as political commodities in today’s China.

Digging a little deeper and we unearth a real respect for the magic dexterity of Xi’s advisors who have clearly done their homework on what works to change political opinion in the US, public opinion. It has been wondrous to see how Xi, upstaged at one point by the Pontif, benignly deferred to the Catholic pomp whilst smilingly sidestepping the Trump-eting republican presidential wannabe’s tirades.

Even the Tweeting Clinton was smoothly nodded away in the land of free speech and steak.

Of course there are those who will find fault with the smoothness of the whole operation but that would be to ignore the enormous changes in the positioning of China to the American people. Ok there was a lecture on cyber security to the Silicon Valley magnates but it seemed sincere as did the inumerable remarks, speeches, photo calls and appearances across the US and as Groucho Marks once famously remarked…. “Sincerity… If you can fake that …. You’ve got it made”!

Perhaps there is a sincerity here that is actually worth taking note of as Putin launches attacks on ISIS, to remind the world of Russia’s hard power. A short political jump away Xi is embalking on a much longer game I think, one which will ultimately place China centre stage rather than on the sidelines throwing bricks.