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Tell a big story well to sell it to the world
By Ma Chao (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-08 08:01

In an era when people are eager to listen to China's stories, a couple have presented their version of the country's story, China's Megatrends, inspired by a meeting they had with former president Jiang Zemin in the 1990s.

Referring to the publicity strategies taken up by Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, John Naisbitt recalls telling Jiang: "Taiwan has a small story to tell, but it tells it very well. The mainland has a much bigger story to tell, but it has done a terrible job." To which Jiang replied: "Why don't you tell a story for us?" That became a driver for him and wife Doris Naisbitt to write a book about China.

In the soon-to-be-published book, the Naisbitts describe China as a learning society and the West as a lecturing society. John Naisbitt concedes that the international community will look increasingly to China for answers and more people will seek to learn from it now that it has risen on the economic front. But even then China is not likely to become a lecturing society.

Tell a big story well to sell it to the world

This difference between China and the West can be seen in their attitudes toward Africa countries, the Naisbitts say. Western countries attach a lot of preconditions for the aids they provide to African countries, while China helps build infrastructure and other facilities without any terms. These facilities facilitate the development of the African countries, and in return China buys their resources. It is relationship that the African countries describe as mutually beneficial.

Many developing countries find China's development pattern more suitable, and are more likely to follow it than the Western model. John Naisbitt says: "If I'm an African, I'll definitely go to China to see how they did it and what we can learn."

Doris Naisbitt intervenes to say that it does not mean African countries do not need a change of governments. It only means others cannot force that change. Her husband agrees, saying it is a big mistake for the West to believe it can tell the African countries what to do. China firmly believes choosing the development pattern is every country's internal affair.

A contentious subject in Naisbitts' dialogue with Zhao Qizheng, as well as in their new book is China's political system, which they call "vertical democracy". John Naisbitt explains that people in a country should decide what their democratic process should be. The West equates democracy with multi-party elections, whereas a lot of countries that have elections are not democracies. By putting too much weight on elections, people are buying the Western definition of democracy.

But look at China, where an amazing number of public hearings are being held, he says. And that is definitely an element of democracy.

Doris Naisbitt explains that China is still in the process of building a "vertical democracy". It should be allowed to take its time to mature. The more politically conscious people become, the more participation they will demand.

Pointing out the flaws in the Western system, she says it's not rare to see political parties quarrel while no work is done or promise fulfilled. China wouldn't have progressed so much in a short time if it had many parties wrangling with each other.

The couple believe the rise of China is more of an opportunity than challenge. John Naisbitt says China has never been an acquisitive power - and it is not likely to be one in the future.

The world is entering a new stage where the two biggest powers - the US and China - are not enemies. Instead, they can become partners and friends because of their economically interdependence, John Naisbitt says.

His wife, however, raises the subject of natural resources, which the old powers worry China will demand in increasing quantities. Since natural resources are linked with the environment, John Naisbitt gives an example of what technology could do. Rubber as a natural resource is limited, but people have invented synthetic rubber. The technological fix is growing and not going to stop.

The Naisbitts and Zhao talked about the misunderstandings between the West and China, and the love the Western media has for sensationalism. The couple suggest a few ways in which China could improve its public relations strategy. Citing the example of US President Barack Obama, they say he is not only extremely eloquent, but also presents himself as a normal human being by building a vegetable garden in the White House compound and meeting people there, and having beer and playing basketball with ordinary people. All these have added to his success.

The speeches of President Hu Jitao have been extraordinary in terms of content, John Naisbitt says. He recalls one of Hu's speeches in which a paragraph listed the problems China needed to address such as the environment and corruption. It was amazingly open and more critical than many Westerners could imagine. But had Obama's rhetoric being used, it would have caught the imagination of a wider spectrum across the world.

Doris Naisbitt cites an example to prove the point. German magazine Der Spiegel is usually very critical of China, she says. But its April issue carried a positive report after China announced how it would work to improve human rights. The change in attitude suggests it would be better for China to invite its critics and give them the facts, prompting them to reconsider their reporting style.

Public relations strategy must be well planed, the Naisbitts say. For instance, European politicians undergo rhetoric courses. They are like actors who need to rehearse a role before getting on stage for the real show. China is like a new actor entering the global theater, so it needs to learn how to play by the rules of the game and wow the audience.

(China Daily 09/08/2009 page9)