Foreign and Military Affairs

Growing role for public diplomacy

Updated: 2011-01-24 07:24

By Ma Liyao (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Public diplomacy should play a great role in China's efforts to help the rest of the world better understand the country and its standpoint on key issues, experts said.

"People-to-people exchanges are relatively less developed compared with other areas. Mutual trust should be based on people-to-people trust," said Wang Honggang, an expert on US studies from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"To help people know themselves and each other objectively is the most important task of people-to-people diplomacy," Wang said.

On Jan 18, the first day of President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States, The New York Times commented that "the central problem in the US-China relationship right now is mutual mistrust".

"Our leaders need to tackle the large issues that contain the potential for conflict and opportunities for cooperation, with parallel dialogues by leaders and experts outside of government," the newspaper said.

Prior to Hu's US visit, a promotional video on China was displayed in New York's iconic Times Square. The 60-second video, which features basketball superstar Yao Ming and astronaut Yang Liwei among other celebrities, will stay on the big screen until Feb 14.

The display, which included a 30-second commercial to be aired on US television and a 30-minute documentary, is part of a major campaign to promote China's image in the United States, according to the State Council Information Office.

This is the first time that China has been promoted overseas on such a scale through a commercial channel.

But direct public contact already has a role in governmental exchanges with foreign countries.

Premier Wen Jiabao mingled with local residents in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park on May 31 last year during his official visit to Japan, jogging and chatting with people.

He also jogged in the park three years ago during a similar visit.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang wrote several articles for European newspapers during his visit to Europe this month, explaining China's policies on a number of issues.

And generally speaking, Chinese people are getting more involved in foreign affairs.

The US embassy in Beijing recently organized two roundtable meetings with Chinese bloggers to discuss China-US relations, trying to "humanize" bilateral ties, as US Ambassador Jon Huntsman said.

Such "public diplomacy" is an important "new dimension" of China's diplomacy, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said last April. "The wisdom of China's diplomacy comes from the people," he added.

Wu Di, an economics teacher in Beijing, was one of the country's first practitioners of public diplomacy, writing directly to US President Barack Obama's White House e-mail address.

Wu wrote to the president warning of the damage that could result from the currency dispute between the two countries.

The viewpoint in Wu's e-mail was supported by data gathered from the US authorities, mainly dealing with the issue of employment.

"The best 'diplomacy' is no diplomacy. I just want to really talk to the US leader and its people to let them know what is going on, both in China and in the US," Wu said.

Wu's opinion was then contributed to and published in the Wall Street Journal in October under the byline of "Dee Woo".

Two months later Wu received a letter in reply from the White House signed by Obama, explaining the US' current economic policies.

"My message is almost certainly not going to have an immediate effect, but I needed to do something to let the top leaders see that their policy changes can influence many people's lives. A trade war or a currency war is not only an economic issue, there are human lives involved," Wu said.

Wu was invited to visit the US on Jan 25 and is scheduled to discuss China-US economic ties with US college students and professors.

"It is going to take a long time for the Chinese people to really realize that diplomacy is not that far away from our lives, we need to tell the world what we really are," Wu said.

Cheng Guangjin and Duan Yan contributed to the story.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/24/2011 page11)


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