China and American Public Diplomacy: Another US Deficit

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) will publish another major report on public diplomacy shortly. Written by Paul Foldi, senior professional staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this report focuses on Chinese public diplomacy with the inevitable comparison to U.S. efforts. I was given a sneak peak at the report. It comes at a time when tough talk in Congress on the State Department’s budget could benefit from such an analysis of a country that is both a major competitor and partner across all aspects of national power and daily life.

This report is another in-depth investigation and commentary on a critical aspect of U.S. global engagement. It focuses on the China-United States exchange. This is the third report sponsored by Senator Lugar to reinvigorate public diplomacy. While the other two were on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (6/2010) and the American Centers (2/2009), this report focused primarily on China. The effect serves to expose not only the broad, extended, and expensive effort of the Chinese to engage foreign audiences, it also highlights opportunities and failed opportunities for the U.S.  

The backdrop of the report, as well as the report’s theme, is eloquently captured in Senator Lugar’s transmittal letter that opens the report. The following excerpt from this latter succinctly summarize the fundamental purpose of the report to alert Congress, and the public, of the integral (and too often minimized or ignored) role of public diplomacy in foreign policy and how we are handicapped both by ourselves and Chinese intervention:

China has a vigorous public diplomacy program, based on a portrayal of an ancient, benign China that is, perhaps, out of touch with modern realities. Nonetheless, we are being outspent in this area of foreign policy by China, which is able to take advantage of America’s open system to spread its message in many different ways, while using its fundamentally closed system to stymie U.S. efforts.

confront problemThe report notes that while official U.S. interest in China – be it political, economic or strategic – has been a part of U.S. policy for decades, only recently has China recognized the need and power of engaging the public directly to shape conditions and policies favorable to China. The result is (sometimes severe) disparity and tension between the image and promises projected by Chinese public diplomacy and the reality of its policies and activities.

The disconnect between what China says and does, the report states, “offer the perfect opening for greater U.S. engagement with China through our Public Diplomacy.” However, the between the lines sentiment of the report is U.S. public diplomacy is hindered and blocked in China. Whether it is the imbalance of cultural centers – 70 Confucius Institutes are in the U.S. while America has only 5 in China – or media access – from information freedom to Xinhua’s 75 U.S.-based correspondents versus China’s limit of 2 VOA journalists – or missed opportunities – like the Shanghai World Expo or the upcoming 2012 Expo – it is clear which country values public diplomacy more.

relationships simple complex.jpgThe nearly 80 page report is an expansive inventory of Chinese public diplomacy intended to work around problems as well as foster individual relationships with China and its culture.

Hollywood, the report notes, helps has a positive effect on the Chinese image. Unmentioned is how Americans corporations, such as Nike, also contribute to China’s projection of itself abroad.

The U.S., the report states, “is not doing all it can to prepare for the increased prominence China will continue to play in our economy and foreign policy.” Even when America does act, the Senator points out that “China is doing everything it can to obstruct, limit and blunt these efforts.”

For example, President Obama’s “100,000 Strong” program to send 25,000 students a year over four years to China is under-resourced. The Chinese government is making up for the lack of U.S. public and private financing.

The lack of reciprocity by China, indeed the blatant obstructionism, is reminiscent of the Cold War. U.S. Government failure to press the issue, which is not specific to any Administrations or party, is not.

This report will contribute to an informed discussion to better equip the U.S. to participate in today’s global environment by increasing awareness of the importance and utility of public diplomacy, a subject often ill-understood and unappreciated on the Hill. Congressional Members and staff should see this report as a study in “smart power” that is inexpensive relative to potential economic and political benefits, not to mention cost comparisons to hard power alternatives or continued failure to act.

The final report will be posted on when it becomes available.

We are overdue for a similar report on the public diplomacy activities of our peers and competitors. The last report I know of by the Government is a GAO report from 1976. In the specific area of government broadcasting, see the Lowy report below.

See also: