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5 Jun, 2012

Chinese Commentator Urges Efforts to Counterbalance U.S. Domination of Global Opinion Market

By Wang Lili (China Daily)

Beijing (2 June 2012) – China urgently needs to carry out more effective public diplomacy if it is to overcome the misunderstandings, prejudice and suspicions that people in other countries have toward it.

Public diplomacy is an indispensable part of a country’s approach to foreign relations as well as an important supplement to its traditional diplomacy. Effective public diplomacy is essential if a nation is to promote its national interests and achieve its foreign policy objectives.

China’s present public diplomacy does not match its position in the world and it needs to be improved.

First, more non-State parties should be invited to participate in the nation’s public diplomacy. China’s interaction with the world should not be just state-to-state and the relations between individual government representatives. Enterprises, the media, non-governmental organizations and individuals also have an important role to play in improving China’s public image overseas. Non-State actors even enjoy special advantages in promoting public diplomacy.

Much of the public diplomacy of Western countries is carried out by commercial and civil parties that help create a national “brand” for their country.

In contrast, the Chinese government is still the main player in China’s public diplomacy and there is actually a great deal of room for the other participants to play their part. For example, the media, think tanks, enterprises and NGOs can work together to present a pluralistic and positive image of China to the world. This would add to the government’s role rather than subtract from it, as it would impose higher requirements on the government to coordinate all the different parties.

Second, the media should play a bigger role in public diplomacy. Successful media performance is part of a nation’s soft power. Although China’s media have made progress, they still lack awareness of their role in public diplomacy and the necessary expertise to carry out effectively. The United States dominates the opinion market. So Chinese media should draw lessons from the US and be mindful of both the challenges and opportunities in the global arena.

Because of their unique characteristics new media can also help strengthen China’s public diplomacy by letting the publics in other countries understand the contradictions that exist in the world’s largest developing country.

Third, effective public diplomacy needs to be targeted at its intended audiences. China’s public diplomacy does not differentiate its projects to different audience groups. If China cannot apply different strategies to different audiences, the efficiency of its public diplomacy will remain very low.

Influencing opinion leaders is the most efficient way to lead public opinion. So some world famous think tank members from home and abroad should be given a much bigger role to play in future public diplomacy, as their opinions often influence governments, the media, interest groups and the public.

As China’s comprehensive national power rises, it needs the world to have a true picture of it in order to create a positive international opinion environment for China’s peaceful development and rise. But it will take time to improve the effectiveness of the nation’s public diplomacy. China should improve its media and increase its input into the media to produce content for the international market that furthers its public diplomacy.

The author is a researcher at the Public Communication Institute with Renmin University of China.