China’s Public Diplomacy

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 09:44
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 In recent years, public diplomacy has gradually emerged as a new area of focus in China’s diplomatic initiatives. As it continues to assume an increasingly important role in the nation’s diplomacy, China’s public diplomacy is embracing new opportunities, assuming new tasks, and striding toward a new phase in its development.

 The role of China’s public diplomacy

 Global trends have dictated the necessity of engaging in public diplomacy. Objectively speaking, public diplomacy is essential if China is to establish a favorable “soft” environment to underpin its development and international cooperation. Under a new situation, public diplomacy represents an important direction for China’s diplomacy.

 A photo exhibition on human settlements development in Zhejiang Province, China was unveiled at the headquarters of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Nairobi on May 26. The exhibition, which was themed “Stunning Culture for the World to Share,” is a part of the activities of Chinese Culture in Focus 2011. The event was jointly hosted by UN-HABITAT, the Zhejiang International Culture Exchange Association, the Zhejiang Publishing United Group and the Confucius Institute of the University of Nairobi. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Zhao Yingquan

 At present, the world is undergoing a period of great change in which the trends of economic globalization and multi-polarization are continuing to accelerate. Under this backdrop, perceptions of countries are determined by a number of factors, including the state of their development and the influence of their cultures, social systems and ideologies. “Soft power,” which mainly comprises of values, systems, political views and cultural influence, is being increasingly emphasized by various countries around the globe, and particularly by major countries. This has given rise to public diplomacy, which is considered as an important means of developing soft power. Various countries have taken steps to increase their strategic investment in public diplomacy in a bid to boost their soft power. China should actively engage in public diplomacy in order to comprehensively develop its soft power, further boost its international appeal and influence, and ensure that the Chinese people gain a greater understanding of not only the outside world, but also themselves. This is both a pressing task and a long-term strategy with far-reaching implications. 

 The reform and opening up drive has not only brought about the enormous success of China’s development, but has also fundamentally changed the way that China interacts with the rest of the world. Today, China needs the world as much as the world needs China. As China’s international standing and influence continue to command greater attention from the international community, more and more countries are actively seeking to enhance ties with China. However, prejudice, misunderstanding and suspicion are still commonplace in international perceptions of China, which is mainly due to differences in values and ideology, lingering Cold War mentalities, and uneasiness over China’s rapid growth. These tendencies are embodied in the “China threat theory,” the notion that China must assume more responsibility, and in assertions that China is getting “tough” or “arrogant.” We should respond to this complicated environment by engaging in public diplomacy. By actively engaging in public diplomacy, we should strive to establish an objective and comprehensive view of China in the international community, allow the world to better understand China’s history, culture, mode of development, government concepts, domestic and foreign policies, and seek to establish and maintain a global image of China as a responsible country committed to peace, development and cooperation. This will give us a greater say in international affairs, and will help to ensure the smooth implementation of China’s development strategy and foreign policy.

 China’s foreign interactions are expanding on a constant basis as the country continues to develop economically and socially. The Chinese people are demonstrating a higher level of interest and participation in foreign exchanges and international affairs than ever before, with more opportunities to participate in the building of China’s national image. They are also exhibiting a greater desire to safeguard China’s national interests. Thus, we should listen to the people, consider their demands, and seek their support in the course of our diplomatic initiatives. However, it is a fact that perceptions of China’s national strength, international status and influence tend to vary within China, as do interpretations of its foreign policies. Therefore, the important functions of public diplomacy should be to make the public aware of China’s current stage of development, foster rational perceptions of China’s external relations, ensure that China’s foreign policies and international roles are understood, and, by doing so, establish correct perceptions of national interests, strengthen the cohesiveness of the Chinese nation, and foster open-minded, tolerant, peaceful and rational citizens.

 The characteristics of China’s public diplomacy

 China’s public diplomacy is firmly rooted in historical tradition. People-to-people diplomacy and civil diplomacy—both forms of public diplomacy—became extremely active after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, playing an irreplaceable role alongside national diplomacy in the shattering of the imperialist blockade and the development of foreign interactions. Following the launch of the reform and opening up drive, active efforts have been made to develop public diplomacy by integrating the experiences of foreign nations into our own traditions, and by giving consideration to both China’s development and the development of the international situation. We have made constant efforts to develop China’s public diplomacy through the course of innovation, and have been successful in endowing it with distinctive Chinese characteristics.

 First, China’s public diplomacy is guided by socialist theories with Chinese characteristics, and in particular, by the unique theories that China has developed on diplomacy. The guiding principles behind China’s public diplomacy are Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the notion of bringing harmony, lasting peace, and prosperity to the entire world through concerted efforts. These principles define the nature, the orientation and the rules of China’s public diplomacy. We must, in light of the new situation, put these guidelines into practice and develop our image in a candid and open manner in order to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between China and the rest of the world. 

 Second, the objective of China’s public diplomacy is to promote common development and prosperity around the world. China’s public diplomacy revolves around the core tasks of the Party; it is designed to serve the overriding trends of reform, development and stability, and its highest priority goes to safeguarding and promoting China’s national interests. China has no intention of exporting its ideology and values to any other country, nor does it have any intention of exerting its influence on the developmental modes or domestic and foreign policies of any other country. The aims of China’s public diplomacy are to bring China and other countries closer together, show the world a true China that strives for lasting world peace and prosperity, and to put an end to misunderstanding, prejudice and suspicion toward China in the international community. China’s public diplomacy is also about promoting cooperation, understanding, and trust between peoples of different nations, and thereby contributing to world peace and development.

 Third, we approach public diplomacy from both domestic and international perspectives. Increasing interactions between China and other countries have blurred the distinction between domestic issues and international issues. An overall plan for public diplomacy should be mapped out in the context of both domestic and international situations. We must balance the domestic situation of reform, development and stability with the international situation of peace, development and cooperation as we advance public diplomacy, so as to ensure success both at home and abroad. Wherein, in addition to ensuring that people around the world gain a fair understanding of China, we should also ensure that the Chinese people gain a better understanding of the global situation and China’s diplomacy. This way, the two different aspects of China’s public diplomacy will complement and spur one another forward. 

 Fourth, we emphasize the integration of Chinese culture with elements from other cultures in our public diplomacy. China’s profound civilization, which spans over 5,000 years of history, is the source of the wisdom and ideological wealth that enriches China’s public diplomacy. Chinese culture traditionally puts people first, values harmony, cherishes friendships with neighbors, and advocates unity in the face of adversity. It is characterized by openness, tolerance and a capacity to absorb and integrate the strengths of other cultures. We view public diplomacy as an important vehicle for promoting interactions between Chinese culture and other cultures of the world. China has increased dialogue and exchanges with other cultures in recent years, and particularly since the beginning of the reform and opening up drive, which has laid down solid foundations for China’s public diplomacy.

 Fifth, China’s public diplomacy is moving forward with the times while carrying on the traditions of the past. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai established the basic principles of China’s foreign policy: encouraging people-to-people diplomacy in order to promote the development of official diplomatic relations between China and other countries, and taking advantage of diplomatic relations with other countries in order to boost people-to-people diplomacy. These basic principles played an important role in breaking down the blockade imposed by Western countries on China after the establishment of the PRC, the normalization of relations with Japan, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States. They also served to promote the development of people-to-people diplomacy and civil diplomacy. Deng Xiaoping attached great importance to people-to-people diplomacy and did a great deal to promote the development of foreign exchanges. These efforts succeeded in creating a favorable international environment for China’s policies of reform and opening up. Following in his footsteps, Jiang Zemin took steps to comprehensively expand the scope of China’s diplomacy. These efforts won China greater understanding and support on the international stage, bringing it closer to the rest of the world. Great success was achieved in the promotion of people-to-people diplomacy and civil diplomacy owing to the efforts of the three generations of central collective leadership of the Party, leaving behind a wealth of experience that would serve as the basis for the development of public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. In a new phase, the CPC Central Committee, with Hu Jintao as General Secretary, has attached great emphasis to the promotion of public diplomacy. President Hu Jintao engaged in a series of public diplomacy activities both before and during his state visit to the United States at the beginning of the year, including a joint written interview with US media, a joint press conference held with President Obama, an address made at a welcome luncheon organized by friendly organizations in the US, and personal exchanges with entrepreneurs and young people from both China and the US. Through these activities, President Hu reached out to the US public, asserting China’s desire to develop a partnership with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit, and reiterating China’s commitment to developing peacefully. Winning widespread coverage and general praise in the international media, Hu’s visit can be regarded as a definitive example of China’s public diplomacy during the current phase. At the present, people’s congresses, various levels of government, and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at all levels are actively engaging in public diplomacy in their respective fields. Moreover, media organizations, think tanks, non-government organizations, social organizations, enterprises and individuals from all sectors of society are also making important contributions to China’s public diplomacy. These things show that China’s public diplomacy is flourishing.

 The development of China’s public diplomacy

 Public diplomacy is a systematic project which calls for a concerted effort among all relevant departments. 

 First, we have sought to design public diplomacy initiatives around major diplomatic activities and high-level visits. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has organized public diplomacy initiatives to coincide with the schedules of national leaders who are conducting overseas visits or attending international conferences. Through these activities, we have sought to convey China’s fundamental standpoints and policies to a foreign audience from various angles. We seized on the opportunities presented by the Shanghai World Expo, the Guangzhou Asian Games, and the convening of the National People’s Congress and the CPPCC to showcase China’s international image and its concepts of development. Much like the Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai World Expo became a major highlight of China’s public diplomacy. We incorporated elements of public diplomacy into the activities of China’s leaders revolving around the opening ceremony, China’s National Pavilion Day, the Summit Forum and the closing ceremony. We organized media interviews for attending foreign leaders, invited 100 correspondents from developing countries to visit China and cover the Expo, arranged interviews and Internet forums for Expo ambassadors, and assisted Chinese embassies and consulates around the world in staging Expo-themed activities. These efforts enhanced the influence of the World Expo and were met with a positive public response.

 Second, we have enhanced our external publicity and our interactions with the public. Efforts have been made to improve the way that we release information. Through these efforts, we now hold almost one hundred regular press conferences every year, releasing authoritative information on sensitive issues, breaking news, and topics of concern at the earliest possible time. We assist foreign correspondents working in China by organizing press briefings, symposiums, meetings and interviews, helping them to gain a better understanding of China and allowing them to be more objective in their coverage. Realizing the important role that the Internet plays in public diplomacy, we have also made efforts to develop a more effective system of websites linking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various agencies stationed abroad. In addition to making various historical records public, we have also held a variety of content-filled public open days in an effort to secure a higher level of input from the public in our diplomatic initiatives. Seminars and other activities have also been held as a new means for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to interact with high-ranking government officials, members of academic, industrial and commercial circles, the media, and the public in both China and abroad.

 Third, we have improved the institutions and mechanisms that underpin our public diplomacy. A Public Diplomacy Office has been established under the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and efforts have been made to improve its structure and functions in order to achieve a higher level of coordination between initiatives inside and outside of the Ministry. In addition to overseeing public diplomacy initiatives in Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, we have also enhanced our channels of communication with political parties, people’s congresses, CPPCC committees, commercial, cultural, educational, scientific and technological spheres, the media, and think tanks. An Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy has also been established, which serves as a publicity body providing information on China’s national conditions, development concepts, and policies.

 Fourth, we have sought to increase the caliber of our diplomatic staff. The focus of our efforts has been on the development of a qualified contingent with a strong awareness of public diplomacy and the capacity to act effectively. Such a team must exhibit excellent communicative skills, have the capacity to correctly analyze various situations, and be able to effectively publicize China’s policies. We have placed an emphasis on the training of diplomats at all levels, and require that they are highly familiar with the situation both inside and outside of China in addition to being adept communicators. Through various initiatives, we have enhanced personnel exchanges with media and research institutes, and have dispatched key personnel to study at Chinese and foreign universities and research institutes. 

 In the future, we will take advantage of summit diplomacy, large-scale domestic events and other opportune occasions to publicize our policies and raise China’s national image; optimize mechanisms for the management of routine operations and emergencies in public diplomacy, and increase our capacity to release information and guide public opinion; provide foreign correspondents with services and assistance so that they can convey China objectively in their reports; encourage more diplomats to engage the public in regard to the international situation, China’s conditions, and diplomacy; support and participate in various China-themed forums domestically and abroad and make our voice heard through authoritative platforms; take advantage of overseas cultural exchanges staged by various different departments and localities in China to promote dialogue and interaction between different cultures; enhance links with Chinese enterprises, overseas Chinese, and Chinese students based abroad and encourage them to play an active role in public diplomacy; use new media and vehicles such as the Internet and mobile phones to promptly and effectively communicate with the public.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 4, 2011)

Note: Author: Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China

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