China: Rebranding 101

By Roseline Twagiramariya

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you have heard about China’s impressive economic growth and its continuing rise as an important global player. A few weeks ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released an informative report on the disparities between Chinese and American public diplomacy activities today. Most importantly, the report, commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, gave a clear and concise look at China’s current rebranding strategies. Aware of its current spotlight and of its negative perceptions abroad, China has heavily invested in their soft power in hopes to ameliorate their image and be seen as less of a threat during their economic expansion. However, having read the report and other articles about China’s so-called “peaceful development”, it’s easy to see how China could very well be standing in their own way. In terms of country branding, their initiative lacks one key factor and that is truthfulness.

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Another US Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released its report on the imbalance of public diplomacy activities between China and the United States. Entitled “Another U.S. Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet,” this is the final version of the report I reviewed on 11 February. Commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, the report is a unique and necessary review of Chinese Government engagement in America. The report also highlights Chinese obstruction of reciprocity and U.S. Government failure to act, notably in the area of information freedom initiatives.

The timing of this report is critical. It comes on the heels of the recent U.S. visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. More importantly, it comes at a time when the U.S. diplomacy budget, public and otherwise (is there really any diplomacy that is not in some part negotiated in public?), is under threat in today’s austere budget environment. At risk is the development and implementation of smart policies that, coupled with unfettered access to information to create knowledge, ultimately have a greater and more enduring bang for the buck than the kinetic effect of any smart munition.

Senator Lugar closes his letter that opens the report, a 2-page letter that you should read if you do not have the time or inclination to read even the report’s executive summary, with the hope the report will “stimulate dialogue within Congress.” It certainly should.

Read the report here (1.55mb PDF).

See also:

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.  

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Zhui: U.S. public diplomacy through Corporate Engagement

imageIn the debate over what is and is not public diplomacy, here’s another example to throw into the mix. In 2009, the ad agency for Nike China won an award for its series on Liu Xiang, a Chinese phenom in the hurdles. Liu carried the inspirations of China into the Beijing Olympic games in 2008. In the qualifying heat for the 110-meter hurdles, however, he suffered a severe and debilitating injury. He left the stadium and comments like ““This is such a disgrace for China” followed him. The Chinese government had invested heavily in Liu as a star for China: he was the first Chinese (or Asian) to win gold in the hurdles, with a world record in the 110 at Athens. But now, Liu was done.

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Whither public diplomacy?

For the practice, theory and organization of public diplomacy, is it helpful for the activities of a foreign government – or non-governmental organization for that matter – in the United States (or elsewhere) to be labeled as public diplomacy? Applying this label could contribute to increased understanding of public diplomacy’s methods and value in the Congress, the White House, the public and the media? Or it could be a harmful link to foreign “propaganda” and our own engagement efforts abroad?

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Event: Rethinking the Future International Security Environment

The Johns Hopkins University / Applied Physics Laboratory announced the 7th year of its Rethinking Seminar Series. This year’s theme is Rethinking the Future International Security Environment and the objective is the “exploration of possible future international environments including potential adversaries and threats to US National Security.” Topics to be covered include:

  • Regional areas of concern (i.e., the Middle East, China, Russia, and N. Korea)
  • Economics and National Security through examinations of potential economic threats to the US and her allies including:
    • The use of sovereign wealth funds to manipulate markets and currencies
    • Nation state economic collapse, sovereign default, and nation state instability
    • US and Allies’ budgets, deficits and their ability/inability to fund robust national security infrastructures
  • Resource Competition and Scarcity including issues of energy, water, agriculture and strategic minerals competition

The free events will occur about every month near the Pentagon. Video, audio, and usually the presentation and even notes are posted to the web about one week after each meeting.

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Cyber Probing: The Politicisation of Virtual Attack

Despite its pervasiveness in our daily lives, from social media to electrical networks to banking, the critical nature of the online remains ill-understood or appreciated. “Cyberspace,” a recent report asserts, “remains inadequately defended, policed and indeed comprehended.” This is the conclusion of Alex Michael, a researcher for the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. In Cyber Probing: The Politicisation of Virtual Attack, Alex dispels the comfortable belief – expressed in practice and conceptualization of online and new media – that the cyber world is somehow separate from the “real” world. In fact, they are simply new tools used for traditional activities. Cyber attacks, Alex points out, are used “in conjunction with many other forms of pressure, ranging from physical protest to social and diplomatic approaches, to influence the target and attempt to force its hand.” The Stuxnet worm reinforces Alex’s premise.

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Aljazeera: tsunami of Chinese commerce is sparking tension and even violence in some parts of Africa

Earlier this month, Aljazeera screened a movie titled The Colony by Brent Huffman and Xiaoli Zhou. Huffman and Zhou explored the “onslaught of Chinese economic might and its impact on long-standing African traditions.” This economic colonization, hence the title of the film, is not without its pitfalls with minimal assimilation, integration, or perception of mutual benefit. As Huffman notes,

Although there is communication between the two sides at a certain level, it is rather limited. Despite various differences in language, culture, and work ethics, the Chinese are not making enough of an effort to integrate into Senegalese society.

Although the Chinese businesses have brought some benefits to the local low-income consumers, their overall presence is viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Senegalese.

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Australian report on international broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy

imageDespite the dozens of reports on U.S. public diplomacy, it is actually quite rare to see an in-depth study on public diplomacy, particularly in the areas of government broadcasting. The “too many” reports have often focused on specific cogs without regard to their place in the greater bureaucratic machine that spans the whole of whatever government the agency happens to be in. Even more rare is an in-depth public analysis of the public diplomacy of another country by another country. This week, an Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute, published such a report.

This report, International broadcasting and its contribution to public diplomacy by Annmaree O’Keeffe and Alex Oliver, is focused on the argument Australia’s government broadcasting needs to be taken seriously and properly funded. In supporting this argument, the authors smartly look at how broadcasting fits into the whole of government public diplomacy efforts as well as examines the activities of peer countries.

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China hosts seminar for developing countries on guiding public opinion and building a national brand

Last month, China hosted an event for Information Ministers from twenty developing countries titled “Actively Guiding Public Opinion and Building up Sound National Image.” According to Sierra Leone News:

The workshop focused on the cooperation and development between the Chinese and foreign media and information department encompassing political, economic, cultural and social aspects.

Participants raised grave concern about the negative media coverage given to developing countries despite efforts of these countries to match up with modern standards.

The Secretary General of the Information office in China, Mr. Feng Xwang said the western media controls the voice of news report thereby failing to report on the social life of the people.  He said Africa, Asia and South America should join forces with China to strengthen their media landscape and bring new opportunities to the media sector.

Vice Minister of the Information Office in Beijing, China, Professor Wang Zhong Wei in his presentation threw light on the rapid development of the Chinese media industry over the last three decades. He said that their media industry has become dynamic, best structured in terms of content and diversity. He said the Chinese information office is ready to embrace collaboration with other media organizations in developing countries to assist in the re-branding of developing nations.

In her contribution, Sierra Leone Deputy Information and Communication Minister suggested the establishment of an African Radio and Television station that would help tell the stories of developing countries better.

[Deputy Information of Information] Madam Saidata Sesay informed her colleagues that her government has recently transformed the then only government mouth piece radio and TV station to a public corporation in the interest of good governance. She appealed to the Chinese Information Office to reactivate the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA)  and to assist in the establishment of a media center which she believed would enhance media development and capacity building in that profession.

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