How Beijing wins friends and influences people

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Dale Carnegie, born into poverty on a Missouri farm in 1888, made a fortune and achieved international fame with his 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book has since sold 30 million copies worldwide, and remains popular among Chinese business people. Dale Carnegie & Associates now conducts training courses across the mainland at centers in cities including Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing, although for ideological reasons, the politicians at Zhongnanhai are unlikely to attend anytime soon.  

Perhaps that is just as well, as some of Carnegie’s advice has long been ridiculed or may be out-of-date. “A drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall” may be true among feuding neighbors, but when it comes to the conduct of foreign policy, Beijing understands “a drop of money” can go a longer way to winning friends.

Which is how Beijing won the friendship and loyalty of the Dominican Republic away from Taiwan on May 1, after promising some $3.1 billion in infrastructure loans to the Carribean island for railways, power plants, highways, and affordable housing. Using “dollar diplomacy,” Beijing has successfully whittled down Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to 19 from the 30 it had since US president Jimmy Carter officially terminated his country’s recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in December 1978.

Should Beijing deliver on its promises of investment and aid to the Dominican Republic, China will win friends and have a positive influence among the Dominicans

Should Beijing deliver on its promises of investment and aid to the Dominican Republic, China will win friends and have a positive influence among the Dominicans. But if the money does not materialize (as in Costa Rica and Sao Tome and Principe) or if investment is viewed as a resource grab (as in Ghana, Libya, Mozambique and Zambia) China could lose friends and its influence could diminish.  

In Taiwan, China’s influence is quickly diminishing, as Beijing’s use of dollar diplomacy to sway Taipei’s allies appears to be backfiring.  A poll conducted from May 2-3 revealed nearly 80% of Taiwanese think China is unfriendly toward Taiwan. A smaller percentage (10.3%) held an opposing view, according to results of a telephone survey of 1,075 Taiwanese residents conducted by the Cross-Strait Policy Association (CSPA).

Given the poll was conducted just days after the Dominican Republic switched its diplomatic recognition away from Taiwan and to Beijing, the results of the poll are not surprising.  Those polled were also likely aware and influenced by both a recent live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait last month and the circumnavigation of the island by China’s strategic bombers and naval vessels in recent months. Some 83.5% of those polled consider China’s dollar diplomacy and shows of military strength not conducive to cross-strait ties, while 63.7% agree their actions have increased tensions in the region.

Offering billions in aid and investment to sway Taiwan’s allies and increasing its military presence in the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea may have won Beijing more friends and greater influence for now.  But as Dale Carnegie would have warned if he were alive today, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” But that is exactly what China is doing in order to intimidate Taiwan, and if we believe the polls, their strategy is causing resentment among the Taiwanese and pushing them further away from China.

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