Foreign and Military Affairs

Putting China's best face forward

By Wu Jiao and Ai Yang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-12 09:39
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Putting China's best face forward

From left of podium: Zhang Xinsheng, Zhao Qizheng, Zheng Wantong (right of podium) and Li Zhaoxing at the launching ceremony for the Center on Public Diplomacy at the Beijing Foreign Studies University on Saturday morning. Guan Xin / China Daily

New center for diplomacy aims to better tell the nation's story

Beijing - China needs adequate public diplomacy to effectively present its image to other countries, which are now more interested in China's story but lack thorough understanding of the country, senior diplomats and scholars said at a forum on Saturday.

China is still far from having a sound public diplomacy system like that of other countries, notably the United States, said Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying.

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"While China has made progress in communicating with foreign political sectors, it lacks experience in handling relations with the media and the public in foreign countries," she said.

Fu made the remarks in a keynote speech at the 2010 International Forum on Public Diplomacy, sponsored by the Beijing Foreign Studies University which set up the country's first academic research center on public diplomacy.

With increasing economic clout, China often finds itself shadowed by unbalanced media coverage in overseas countries.

The country has faced several challenges from the international community in recent years. How to use public diplomacy to complement governmental diplomacy and better inform and influence public opinion in other countries and ease tensions has been a hot topic in China.

According to the United States General Accounting Office, the US has focused increased attention on public diplomacy since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Such diplomacy, especially in Muslim-majority countries, has been considered to be "of strategic importance in the war on terrorism" and to "promote better appreciation of the United States abroad".

According to Fu, while the world's impression on China has been quite one-sided, either playing up a "China Threat" while talking about its development or a "China Collapse" in terms of the country's difficulties, the prejudice is mainly because of lack of information.

While many blame the foreign media for their unbalanced reports on China, Fu took a different view.

She said China's image in the foreign press depends on the country presenting itself more completely.

"Even if the host tells the audience the next show they are about to see is terrible, they can't decide for the audience, so the performers have to get on stage and let others see what they've got, and decide for themselves." Fu said.

China needs to conduct and plan a more vivid and active presentation of itself, which may be as simple as presenting the daily life of the Chinese, said Fu.

Fu Ying is China's first female vice-foreign minister from an ethnic minority group - she is a Mongolian - and the 57-year-old has won wide praise in recent years for her down-to-earth style, media savvy and in-depth knowledge of social issues.

Xiong Guangkai, chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS) and former deputy chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, said that public diplomacy has been exerting a more crucial role as it offers an important channel and platform in building a country's soft power.

Scholar Johan Galtung from Norway, who also spoke at the seminar, advised China to present multiple angles in its news coverage.

"If the West doesn't understand China, they use Western criteria to judge it.

"China is not good at explaining itself - and the West, by trying to understand this country, looks for the negative issues it has," said Galtung.

"China should not only run the CCTV 9 news channel but also a global TV station which includes China as part of the content," said Galtung.

Zhou Wa contributed to the story