Cold War 2.0 Visual Conflicts: American Visual Constructions of the Chinese 'cyber Threat'

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Daniel GARRETT , Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, North Point, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Soft power is a contested and volatile resource.  Nations cultivate, expend, and exhaust soft power through hegemonic visual struggles within the international order – especially those at odds with the dominant soft power actor, the United States.  Embedded within the notion of soft power and soft power conflict is the power of images for conveying political messages and values, and fostering or contesting the construction, (re)presentation, and diffusion of national brands.  In recent years, an escalating dynamic of debates and narratives surrounding soft power have rooted over the putative decline of the U.S. and concomitant rise of the People's Republic of China.  While simultaneously disputing America's waning, many U.S.-based critics of Chinese soft power moved past traditional China bashing exercises over censorship, democracy, and human rights, and now attempt to explicate away China's post-opening up and reform achievements – key elements of the contemporary Chinese soft power story.  Beginning with reputational assaults on Confucius Institutes as 'espionage dens,' its global media expansion as 'propaganda offensive,' and 'peaceful development' model as smokescreen, a loudening denigration of Beijing's economic and technological milestones has emerged from Washington.  This information war, intended to shape and malign representations of China's brand, is best exemplified in the extraordinary claims of former senior U.S. intelligence, law enforcement, and defense officials in late-2011/early-2012 accusing China of wholesale cyber espionage.  Extending into 2013, American broadsides escalated to attacking the very premise of red China's success: 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'; asserting Chinese malfeasance and thievery were at the heart of the 'China miracle,' not any innate superiority of the Chinese system.  Though manifested primarily in textual discourses, subversive visual imaginaries of China have been increasingly evident in Washington's efforts to degrade Chinese soft power. This paper examines the production, circulation and reception of these popular culture and political visual confrontations.