More diverse actors, too, are pressuring Beijing on human rights issues. Just in the past month, China has had to contend with pressure closer to home: In early April, Japanese Diet members adopted a highly unusual resolution on Tibet calling for the Chinese government to resume talks with the Dalai Lama. Beijing also found itself forced to respond to critical South Korean press reports that China had forcibly repatriated North Koreans; in response, Beijing allowed a handful of North Koreans sheltered in the South Korean consulates in China to depart for Seoul. These actions may have been inspired in part by China's 2011 vote in support of international action in Libya, though its 2012 refusal to censure Syria has dimmed hopes that Beijing is more willing to lend its heft to international efforts to stop extraordinary brutality. Perhaps more governments have realized that they can publicly criticize China for its human rights violations. At a minimum, the developments in Japan and South Korea will make it harder for the new leadership to paint all human rights pressure as Western propaganda.
Even China's "soft power" efforts are proving problematic. The incoming leadership would do well to re-examine these, and other governments should think more carefully about partnering in such efforts. This year's London Book Fair -- showcasing Chinese literature -- is a classic example. The Chinese government chose all of the Chinese writers invited to participate, noticeably omitting more critical voices; the British Council, the fair's host, has been harshly criticized for collaborating with China's state censors. At least some people in Britain are now left with a visceral sense of what it's like to be a critical literary voice in China today -- precisely the opposite impression of what Beijing intended, and precisely what's happening at book fairs and film festivals across the world.
Many of the voices in China who could suggest an alternate course have been muzzled. It remains difficult for the Chinese media to press its government to act more responsibly internationally. According to the domestic press, the Philippines is the aggressor in the South China Seas skirmishes; China remains a "firm advocate of peace" in Syria and has "made unremitting efforts" to "resolve the current crisis," while the London Book Fair "opens a new chapter in nation's cultural exchange." There is precious little discussion of the occupation of the Quito Embassy or of the Japanese resolution on Tibet. Weibo and other online platforms provide an opportunity for some to debate these issues, suggesting healthy domestic interest in foreign policy. And even in state media, cracks are beginning to show: After an unprecedented evacuation of more than 35,000 Chinese people from Libya, critiques were published suggesting that the government had failed citizens overseas. But this remains a far cry from allowing -- or soliciting -- broad public input on policy.
Xi Jinping and his colleagues are well aware of the pressures that China's global role brings, but it's less clear whether they understand the growing alienation their policies and practices are creating around the world. If they are keen for more good news and less reputational damage, they would be wise to change approaches that are increasingly a lightning rod for criticism abroad. And other governments would be wise to keep up the pressure, rather than cater to the misplaced notion that China should be held to different standards than other global powers.