Major step in image building

Updated: 2013-04-10 08:14

By He Wenping (China Daily)

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Public diplomacy and soft power are needed to present the real and complex China to the rest of the world

President Xi Jinping paid state visits to Russia, Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo between March 22 and 30 and he also attended the fifth BRICS summit held in Durban, South Africa. During the tour, Xi demonstrated the learned and refined presence of China's new leadership, and his plain but thought-provoking speeches have been very impressive.

But this was not just Xi's first foreign trip as head of state and his debut on an important multilateral international stage, it was also the debut in the international diplomatic arena of first lady Peng Liyuan, who is one of China's best-known singers and who was quite popular among Chinese people even before her husband became president. Peng's graceful and glamorous international debut as first lady highlighted China's new soft power diplomacy.

Peng has made a unique contribution to the shaping and improving of China's national image. During the tightly scheduled 10-day tour, the Chinese people and the world's media followed every event, every appearance and every outfit of the first lady, who chose elegant clothing designed and made in China, and she gave China-made goods as gifts.

Besides accompanying her husband on his various diplomatic activities, as a World Health Organization Ambassador for TB and HIV/AIDS, Peng visited an orphanage for children affected by HIV in Brazzaville, Congo. The image of her embracing infants there showed the tenderness and warmth of a Chinese mother. Such a beautiful, warm picture also denied the lie of the so-called China threat.

Over the past more than 30 years since China's reform and opening-up, China has integrated into the international community economically, but in terms of ideology, values and political aspirations there has always been discord. Xi's tour and the debut of Peng as first lady can be regarded as China successfully promoting its public diplomacy and soft power.

Previously in the political and diplomatic fields, whatever China has done has provoked criticism and even resulted in infamy. Various ill-disposed allegations, including the China threat theory, have had a serious impact on the external environment for China's peaceful rise.

In fact, in an era of globalization and diversification, it is normal for countries at different development stages and with different national conditions to choose different political roads and values, and it is normal to see increasingly fierce market competition among enterprises in the process of accelerated economic globalization. Differences and competition are not terrible things. What is terrible is that some Western politicians and media with a zero-sum and China-bashing mentality are keen on misinterpreting or reading too much into these differences and competition.

In fact, diversity is a driving force promoting human civilization, and differences constitute the beauty of all things on earth. Unfortunately, the West chooses to ignore this principle when it comes to different values and ideology.

In the face of the current international public opinion environment, which is not conducive to its development, China must vigorously strengthen its public diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges, and strengthen communication and mutual understanding between the Chinese people and the peoples of the world through multilevel and multichannel non-governmental exchanges and dialogue. Faced with the rapid development of globalization, regional integration and increasingly diversified international actors, relying solely on official government diplomacy is not enough.

Public diplomacy has become an increasingly common diplomatic approach. If used properly, public diplomacy can effectively help promote official diplomacy and achieve results that official diplomacy cannot produce.

To show the world the real and peaceful China, it is far from enough to rely solely on the country's rising economic strength or policy statements and the various white papers issued by the authorities. China needs to mobilize all kinds of diplomatic approaches with the broad-based participation of all sectors of society and make use of elements representing essential Chinese culture and values in ways that show a real and complex China in appealing ways.

The great and profound Chinese culture provides great potential for China to carry out public diplomacy. In the final analysis, we are not short of public diplomacy and soft power resources, but we have lacked the awareness and means to promote public diplomacy and soft power diplomacy. The first official tour by Xi and Peng has been a good start in changing this and it has opened a new chapter for China's diplomacy, enhancing the country's soft power and reshaping the country's international image.

The author is a senior fellow with the Chahar Institute and a researcher with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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