China is a major regional power in Asia and aspires to become a global superpower. In this context, the Chinese government developed a proactive public diplomacy, investing $10 billion each year to portray itself as a harmonious and peaceful country and to promote its rich and dynamic culture. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, the country was relatively isolated on the international stage. It was only in 1971, in fact, that China joined the United Nations, replacing the Republic of China, Taiwan.
However, after its economic reforms in 1978, China initiated a dramatic economic growth and got increasingly involved in multilateral diplomacy, becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation, launching the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and hosting the G20 summit in 2016 when it became the second largest economy in the world. But the rise of China was also perceived as a threat by many. And negative consequences of the country’s fast growth were put forward by the international media, especially for what concerned the environment, public health, and human rights. Several are the pollution crisis, food scandals, and accusations of violating human rights in Tibet and in Xinjiang for example, that have led to negative international media coverage.
And thus, have been detrimental to the country’s image. As a result, since the 1990s, China has been increasingly active in countering such negative reports and promoting a positive image of itself by developing a public diplomacy strategy. That has relied both on state actors, such as the Office of Foreign Propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council Information Office and on non-state actors, such as academics and NGOs. The government untapped the potential of the millions of Chinese people that live around the world by creating dozens of pro-china associations, such as the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries as well as education and cultural institutions, and youth organisations.
So what have been the key messages of China’s public diplomacy strategy? First of all, China wants to be viewed as a harmonious society, which endeavours to redistribute wealth and bridge the gap between the cities and the countryside. Second, China wants to be considered a dynamic and stable economic partner and discard the image of a rising Chinese threat. Third, China wishes to be seen as trustworthy and cooperative. And for this reason, the country drew for itself a key role in peace talks and processes, especially in relation to the Korean peninsula issue. Last but not least, China wants to be acknowledged and respected as an ancient but vibrant culture.
A rising number of Chinese artists, filmmakers, and writers have enjoyed an increasing worldwide recognition and audience. What are the main tools of China’s public diplomacy? Surely, state owned media organisations, such as China Radio International and Chinese State Television, which broadcast all around the world, as well as Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency that has an English service, and the many English language Chinese newspapers, which have been launched to reach and inform foreign audiences. As we have seen in an earlier video, also the now extensive network of Confucius institutes around the world is an important tool for China’s cultural diplomacy, aiming to promote friendly relationships with other countries and enhance the understanding of the Chinese language and culture.
Finally, China’s event’s strategy is a fundamental element in the country’s public diplomacy. This event’s strategy, inaugurated in 1990, with Beijing hosting for the first time the Asian games. And later in 2008, the summer Olympic games. In 2010, Shanghai organised the international exposition. And Beijing will host the winter Olympic games in 2022. These kinds of events attract massive media attention on the country’s modern infrastructures and innovative architecture. Another stream of events is that of festivals and of China culture weeks and years that the country has organised to further promote its culture across the globe.
It is clear that China is a case in point and illustrates very well how international influence is not only about economic and military power, but also increasingly about information and culture.