Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Attention-seekers and autocrats are a combustible mix

By Elisabeth Braw

28 Sep 2023 · 7 min read

informed Summary

  1. China's proposed legislation to make it illegal to or hurt "the feelings of the Chinese people" could lead to diplomatic disputes with the West. The law, which could result in a fine or imprisonment, doesn't specify what constitutes offensive actions, words or clothing.

In an extremely online age, insulting foreign governments is a superhighway to fame and notoriety. Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have already proved handy tools for such provocateurs. Those autocrats’ skin, though, seems positively rhino-like compared with what may be coming our way from China. Planned new legislation will make it illegal to offend “the Chinese national spirit” or hurt “the feelings of the Chinese people.” The proposed legislation is a recipe for diplomatic disputes with the West—especially in a social media culture where provocation has become a course for fame.

2023 has already been the year of the foreign policy-focused provocateur, who has gone straight for the ego of overseas leaders. At the beginning of the year, Sweden—where nothing less than accession to NATO is at stake—turned out to be a perfect staging ground for Danish agitator Rasmus Paludan, who realized he could get massive attention by burning a Quran just as Erdogan was weighing how to view the Swedish NATO application.

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