Analyzing China’s Struggles With Its Soft Power Initiatives

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Last week I submitted a comment briefly centering on Taiwan’s complicated history and how it affects its current PD strategies, and this week I’ll focus on the efficacy of China’s current public diplomacy attempts (yes, yet another blog piece about China). I hope not to pigeonhole myself into writing solely about these two interconnected though distinct nations, but comparing and contrasting the nature of their PD strategies offer salient points for understanding the core values of public diplomacy.

Recently it was through reading this article as well as having a few conversations with other like-minded individuals that enlightened me to recognizing another face of public diplomacy. Last week we discussed sparingly about the differences, if any, between public diplomacy and propaganda. Although I still stand by my assertion that they are essentially one and the same in their basic goal of disseminating information with the goal of influencing decision-making processes, I also recognized the similarities between public diplomacy and marketing strategies. Both attempt to sell an image or brand to be consumed by target audiences.

As the article I linked to mentioned, understanding PD from this interpretation can explain why China constantly experiences failures with its soft power initiatives. China has attempted in recent years to convincing the world, especially the West, that it is committed to peacefully integrating itself into the current world order as it rises in economic power and political clout. But every soft power effort is undermined by aggressive tactics like naval confrontations in the South China Sea / Senkaku Islands and the recent ADIZ announcement (not to mention petty actions including their paltry aid contributions to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan as punishment for South China Sea conflicts). Thus consumers have a difficult time separating the image of China as an aggressive, authoritarian state from that portrayed in their soft power efforts as a peaceful nation, which is why consumers are so reluctant to embrace this peaceful image of China. As the article also mentions, China does not help itself through its heavy censuring and control of any information released internationally as well as inability to target its core audience (Millenials) due to blocking of integral social media sites like Facebook.

Although I do apologize for contributing yet another piece about China, it really should attract a good majority of our focus as students of public diplomacy because both it and Taiwan offer strong, relevant case studies in how countries struggle with separating their hard power images from their public diplomacy efforts, how public diplomacy strategies are evolving in this Age of Technology, and what constitutes the basic core of each nation’s public diplomacy (hint: cultural identity).

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