I was lucky enough to be invited along to a China vs. Chelsea match at Brentford (look it up!) earlier this week. It was a good evening out, and attracted a lot of the London Chinese community, in addition to vocal Chelsea supporters. While the first half was pretty dull on the pitch, things picked up in the second half.
China lost the game, but put in a pretty good effort. The only disappointing, and surprising, thing, was the violence – two fights broke out on the pitch – though it was hard to see exactly who did what to whom. Even more worrying was a report in today’s Telegraph that another “friendly” match (this time against QPR) had to be abandoned due to fighting. As the Chinese player at the centre of the action put it:
“When facing the provocation I failed to respect opponents and not strike back – and that caused the incident”
So, just for the record, remember that Chinese footballers can get angry (and show anger) along with the best that Britain’s football crowd can muster. Not that it is a good thing.
In any event, this is not the sort of image China wants to give to the world in the run-up to the Olympics (or at any time), and is at odds with the more traditional restraint that may have been expected (hoped for?).
Another event I attended this week, was a talk by Joshua Cooper Ramo of Kissinger Associates, who was launching his new pamphlet “Brand China ” (to add to his other one, “The Beijing Consensus ”). The back cover notes:
“Ramo argues that China’s national image, and the misalignment between China’s image of itself and how it is viewed by the rest of the world, may be its greatest strategic threat. It argues that alongside its other reforms, China needs a ‘fifth transition’ if the trust and understanding necessary for the next stage in its development are to be achieved”
While not everyone was in agreement that branding (or image) is China’s biggest challenge, there is little doubt that how China is perceived has an impact on how it is engaged. For some the Chinese brand may simply imply “made in China”, for others it is “threat”, “opportunity”, “The (insert here) Issue”, or simply “big and scary”.
A China that can engage openly with the international community, and successfully communicate an understanding that goes beyond those narrow pre-conceptions, is a China that will be more effective in promoting its own interests – and in having others recognise that, while these interests may not always align with their own, there is plenty of mutual benefit to be enjoyed.
Let’s hope that China’s Olympian footballers (and one or two others) will take a less aggressive stance in 2008, and that China’s brand, complex as it may be, will start to be seen in a more positive light.
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