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Chinese charm

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James Reynolds | 08:59 UK time, Friday, 6 February 2009

Before I came to China, I tried to learn a bit about Chinese etiquette. The one thing I remember learning is this: when it comes to clinking wine glasses at a formal reception, it's polite to make sure that the rim of your glass is lower than that of the person you're clinking with.

The other day I was at a Chinese new year reception hosted by the state broadcaster, CCTV. At toasting time, the CCTV executives fanned across the room with their wine glasses held out at about waist level - making it impossible for any of us to get our glasses lower than theirs. They won the politeness battle.

But don't confuse etiquette with a lack of ambition. This year CCTV is planning to open Russian and Arabic language channels. Reports also say that the state-run news agency Xinhua has plans to start up its own international news channel. China is determined to project its own image and perspective as far as it can.

So this country's image-makers may be interested in the results of an opinion poll conducted for the BBC World Service. The poll suggests that global attitudes towards China - and Russia - are worse than they were a year ago (although clearly there are a huge number of caveats to throw at a single poll which takes broad conclusions from a limited number of interviews - as I'm sure many of you will be keen to tell me).

But how the world sees China and how China sees the world matter quite a bit. An American writer, Joshua Kurlantzick, goes through some of China's image-making efforts in his book, "Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power is Transforming the World".

The writer lists the things that China's done in order to win friends around the world: it's ended border disputes with its neighbours; it plays an active part in global institutions such as the UN and the World Trade Organization; it doesn't intervene unilaterally in other countries' internal wars (and it stopped funding Maoist-style revolutions a long time ago). Mr Kurlantzick also argues that China's model of authoritarian capitalism provides a tempting alternative to governments unsure of the benefits of Western-style democracy.

The Chinese government has come up with a phrase to explain what it's doing and why no one need worry: "Heping Jueqi" - Peaceful Rise.

Have China's efforts won you over?


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