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Endeavor to Open a New Horizon of Public Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics

Yang Jiechi

16 February 2011

In recent years, public diplomacy has become a new growth point and focus of China's diplomatic work. Its status and role in China's overall diplomacy is growing and its importance increasingly obvious. In July 2009, President Hu Jintao made an important speech at the 11th Conference of Chinese Diplomatic Envoys Stationed Abroad, elaborating on the important status and role of public diplomacy. He pointed out that public diplomacy, as an important part of overall diplomacy, is not only necessary as China improves its diplomatic layout under the new situation, but also important as China endeavors to open a new horizon for its diplomacy. He emphasized that public diplomacy concerns China's international image, and diplomats should strive to increase China political influence, economic competitiveness, international appeal and moral support. This insightful and farsighted assessment provides important guidance for promoting public diplomacy under the new situation. For the first time, public diplomacy was given strategic importance in the overall diplomacy. A new historic opportunity has come, a new mission is laid out and a new era has begun for China's public diplomacy.


Public diplomacy is a continuation and extension of traditional diplomacy. It is usually led by the government, which uses various means of publicity and communications to present to foreign audiences its basic national conditions and policies, and to inform its own citizens of its foreign policy and related measures. The purpose is to win the understanding, recognition and support of the public both in the country and abroad, project a positive image of the country and the government, create a favorable media environment, and safeguard and advance the fundamental interests of the country in question.

Public diplomacy has the following salient features. The first is its extensive reach. Public diplomacy targets all sectors of society, consists of all kinds of bilateral and multilateral dialogue and exchanges between governments and peoples, and covers the economy, education, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, media, science, technology, sports, military and many other areas. The second is its interactive approach. Public diplomacy focuses on reaching understanding and common ground through two-way interaction rather than one-way importation. Through public diplomacy, the government tries to influence public opinion and public opinion in turn affects government policy-making. The third is its incremental process. Due to constant changes in the domestic and international situation, public diplomacy is a long-term, complex effort. It is a systematic project that requires an incremental approach and sustained efforts to build on minor progress so as to achieve major breakthroughs. The fourth is its indirect nature. In public diplomacy, government often plays the role of an organizer and facilitator while the main players are the media, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, academic institutions, eminent persons and ordinary citizens.

Public diplomacy follows the trend of the world and answers the call of the times. It meets the need of China for a sound soft environment for its own development and cooperation with foreign countries. It is a major new area for China's diplomatic work.

The world today is undergoing major adjustments and changes, with an accelerated trend towards economic globalization and a multi-polar world. Perception of a country is influenced not only by its own development but also by many other factors including cultural background, social system and ideology. Many countries in the world, in particular major countries, are paying greater attention to the development of soft power, mainly values, models, political propositions and culture. Public diplomacy, which is a product of the times, is an important vehicle for the development of soft power. Many countries are putting more resources in public diplomacy out of strategic considerations. China must engage in public diplomacy, build up its soft power, increase its appeal, influence and support in the world, and provide domestic public with more information about the world and China. This is not only an urgent task but also a long-term strategy with far-reaching impact.

China has made enormous progress and its relations with the world have undergone historic changes since the beginning of reform and opening-up. Today's China needs the world more than ever, and vice versa. The international community pays more attention to China's standing and influence and values greater cooperation with China. At the same time, prejudices, misunderstandings and misgivings about China still exist due to different ideologies and values, hangover from the Cold War or failure to adjust to China's rapid development, and hence the talk of "China threat", "China's responsibility" and "Chinese assertiveness". In the face of this complex media environment, we must use public diplomacy to encourage an objective and comprehensive view on China and better understanding of China's history, culture, development path, governance philosophy and domestic and foreign polices. We must project and uphold China's image as a responsible country dedicated to peace, development and cooperation, expand our say internationally and ensure the successful implementation of our national development strategy and diplomatic principles and policies.

At the same time, with China's continuous economic and social development and growing exchanges with the world, the public at home have a greater interest and want a larger part in diplomatic and international affairs. They have more opportunities to help shape the image of their country and a stronger desire to uphold national interests. Thus, in our diplomatic work, we need to heed the voice of the people, hear their views and seek their support. Meanwhile, people from different sectors in China have different perceptions and readings of our national strength, international status and role, and foreign policy. Therefore, it is the duty of public diplomacy to paint an objective picture of China – its development stage and external environment, its relations with the rest of the world, its due role in the world and its foreign policy so as to help the public see our national interests in perspective, enhance national cohesion and unity and foster an open, inclusive, moderate and sensible mentality.

To sum up, public diplomacy inevitably becomes an important diplomatic priority in the new era of diverse players, audiences and means, expanding areas and enriched contents of diplomatic work. It undoubtedly serves as an important bridge between the government and the public, between the government and the media and between domestic policy and international perception. We must keep the public in mind and interact with the public opinion and the media in a positive manner in order to take the initiative and make our development strategy and foreign policy more appealing and inspiring.


Public diplomacy has a long history in China. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, people's diplomacy and people-to-people diplomacy was quite active. It bore certain features of public diplomacy and played an indispensable part in the country's diplomatic work, breaking the blockade and establishing external contacts. In the era of reform and opening-up, we have explored new ways to develop public diplomacy in the light of China's development and changes in the international situation, building on our own tradition and drawing on useful experience of foreign countries. China's public diplomacy – an innovative process that is still evolving – has the following distinct characteristics.

First, public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is guided by the theory of socialism, particularly the diplomatic theory, with Chinese characteristics, i.e. Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of "Three Represents", the Scientific Outlook on Development and the diplomatic vision of building a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity through joint efforts. Together, the theory and thoughts provide important guidance as to the nature, direction and principles of public diplomacy. Under the new circumstances, we should follow the above guiding thoughts in conducting public diplomacy, portray China with a candid and open attitude and action and enhance understanding and friendship between China and the rest of the world.

Second, public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is aimed at promoting the common development and prosperity of China and the world. China's public diplomacy revolves around the central tasks of the Party and the state. Its fundamental purpose is to serve China's reform, development and stability, and its top priority is to uphold and advance China's overall national interests. China has no intention whatsoever of exporting its ideology and values or exerting influence on the development path and domestic and foreign policy of other countries. Through public diplomacy, we want to bring China closer to the world, present to the world a true China – a China that is committed to lasting peace in the world and common prosperity of all countries – and remove prejudices, misunderstandings and misgivings about China. At the same time, we hope to enhance friendly cooperation, mutual understanding and trust between the peoples of the world and contribute to world peace and development.

Third, public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics takes into account both the domestic and international factors. In China's development under the new circumstances, there is a greater interaction between what is domestic and what is external. It is increasingly apparent that a domestic matter may have international implications, and vice versa. Public diplomacy should look both inward and outward. Overall planning is crucial so that our public diplomacy always serves both domestic reform, development and stability and international peace, development and cooperation. We need to show the world a true picture of China and at the same time, offer the domestic public more comprehensive information on the international situation and China's diplomacy. These two efforts will complement and reinforce each other.

Fourth, public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics both promotes Chinese civilization and draws on other civilizations. The 5,000-year Chinese civilization is a rich source of ideas and wisdom for our public diplomacy. Chinese culture is people-oriented, cherishes peace and advocates benevolence, good relations with neighbors, and harmony among all. It is an open and inclusive culture. It should be an integral part of public diplomacy to facilitate exchanges and mutual learning between the Chinese and other civilizations. For decades, especially since reform and opening-up started, China has enhanced dialogue and exchanges with other civilizations, which laid a sound basis for public diplomacy.

Fifth, public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics both carries on tradition and keeps abreast of the times. Shortly after the founding of the People's Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai laid down the basic diplomatic principles of "letting people-to-people contacts herald and facilitate the establishment of official ties" and "using official ties to boost people-to-people contacts as a way to strengthen both". This helped break Western blockade and encirclement of New China, played an important role in the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan and the establishment of diplomatic ties with the United States, and boosted the development of "people's diplomacy" and "people-to-people diplomacy". The late Deng Xiaoping attached great importance to people-to-people diplomacy. He vigorously pushed forward external exchanges and helped create an enabling international environment for China's reform and opening-up. Former President Jiang Zemin built on past diplomatic achievements and made fresh breakthroughs. He advanced all-dimensional diplomacy to win more international understanding and support for China and draw China and the world closer together. These three generations of Chinese leaders have made intensive efforts to develop people's diplomacy and people-to-people diplomacy and scored splendid achievements, leaving rich experience for the promotion of public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. In the new era, President Hu and the central government leadership emphasizes, encourages and engages in public diplomacy. President Hu Jintao's recent state visit to the United States was a success. On the eve of the visit, President Hu gave a written interview to mainstream US media organizations. During the visit, he held a press conference with President Obama, addressed the welcoming luncheon hosted by friendly organizations of the United States and interacted face-to-face with Chinese and US businessmen and American students. He used these occasions to elaborate on China's policy propositions on building China-US cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit and China's strategy of peaceful development. His remarks received wide attention and positive response from the international media, and set an example for China's public diplomacy in the new era. Moreover, the people's congresses, governments and people's political consultative conferences at all levels also engage in active public diplomacy. Media organizations, think tanks, academia, non-governmental organizations, social organizations, business community, and people from all walks of life all play a part in public diplomacy. An all-dimensional, multi-tiered structure of public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics has taken shape, in which political, economic and cultural efforts, various departments and localities, and domestic and international agencies coordinate with each other.


Public diplomacy is a huge systematic project. It requires all relevant agencies to work together and form synergy. In recent years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has kept in mind the central tasks of the Party and the government and the overall picture of China's diplomatic work when innovating ways and means and promoting the development of China's public diplomacy.

First, the Foreign Ministry strengthened planning of public diplomacy for high-level visits and major diplomatic activities. Overseas visits by Chinese leaders or multilateral or international conferences which Chinese leaders attend are opportunities for organizing coordinated events of public diplomacy to explain China's principled positions and policy propositions from various perspectives. We have made good use of the Shanghai World Expo, Guangzhou Asian Games, annual sessions of NPC and CPPCC, and other major events to present China's image and development concepts. Expo diplomacy was the biggest public diplomacy event following the Beijing Olympic Games. Public diplomacy elements were carefully woven into Chinese leaders' activities at the Opening Ceremony, the China Pavilion Day, the Summit Forum and the Closing Ceremony. We encouraged visiting foreign leaders to give interviews, invited a hundred journalists from other developing countries to cover the Expo, arranged interviews and online discussions with Expo protocol ambassadors, and assisted Chinese diplomatic and consular missions abroad with Expo-related activities to extend the international reach of the World Expo. These efforts have generated good media and public response.

Secondly, the Foreign Ministry strengthened media-related work and interaction with the public. We improved the information release mechanism. Last year, the Foreign Ministry held nearly 100 regular press briefings, and released authoritative information as soon as hotspot and sensitive issues or emergencies occurred. We provided assistance and facilitation to foreign correspondents working in China through briefings, roundtables, parties and organized media events, and encouraged more comprehensive understanding and objective reporting on China. We improved the websites of the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions abroad and vigorously engaged in online public diplomacy. We held MFA Open Day activities with varied themes and declassified some diplomatic archives. These efforts made foreign affairs more accessible to the public and allowed us to listen to public opinion and draw upon the people's wisdom. We held seminars and set up other platforms to facilitate exchanges with Chinese and foreign government officials, the academic and business communities, the media and the public. An example of this is the recently launched "Lanting Forum", which captured attention in and outside of China.

Thirdly, the Foreign Ministry strengthened the institution-building for public diplomacy. The Office for Public Diplomacy was set up under the Information Department, and its structure and role were constantly substantiated. We also vigorously conducted overall planning and intra-ministry and inter-agency coordination, gave guidance to Chinese embassies and consulates regarding public diplomacy, and increased communication and liaison with various departments of the Party, the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in the fields of commerce, culture, education, science and technology, media groups and think tanks. We established the MFA Public Diplomacy Advisory Committee, which introduced China's national conditions and governing philosophy and interpreted China's policies and propositions to the outside world.

Fourthly, the Foreign Ministry strived to build a strong team for public diplomacy. We strive to build a qualified team that has a good understanding of and capability for public diplomacy, that is good at both writing articles and making speeches, both situation analysis and policy explanation. We attach importance to training diplomats at all levels, requiring them to be well versed in the national and international conditions and communication skills. We also enhance various forms of personnel exchanges with media groups and research institutes. We send the best diplomats to Chinese and foreign universities and research institutes for advanced studies to help them build up overall capability.

Going forward, we will act in the spirit of the 17th Party Congress and its Fifth Plenary Session, aim at serving China's scientific development and accelerated transformation of economic development pattern, and foster a favorable external environment for a smooth launch of the 12th Five-Year Plan. We will make extensive policy pronouncements around summit diplomacy, large domestic events and key dates to project a positive image of China. We will improve the daily and emergency management mechanisms for public diplomacy to strengthen information release and shape public opinion. We will continue to provide services and facilitation to foreign correspondents in China and help them to present an objective and comprehensive picture of China to the world. We will encourage more diplomats to communicate with the public and discuss with them the international situation, China's national conditions and diplomatic work. We will support and participate in forums and seminars themed on China at home and abroad, and make China's voice heard at authoritative platforms. We will promote inter-cultural dialogue through cultural and people-to-people exchanges conducted abroad by various departments and localities. We will strengthen ties with overseas Chinese companies, Chinese communities and students to arouse their enthusiasm for participation in China's public diplomacy. We will make better use of the new media, such as the internet and mobile phone, to have timely and effective communication with people from all strands of the society.

With rapid progress in the world, China's public diplomacy has a promising future and an arduous task. We will follow the guidance of the Deng Xiaoping theory and the important thought of "Three Represents", apply the Scientific Outlook on Development and continue to implement the outcomes of the National Conference on Foreign Affairs Work and the 11th Conference of Diplomatic Envoys Stationed Abroad. We will hold high the banner of peace, development and cooperation and coordinate domestic and international factors. We will work together with relevant domestic departments, proceed from reality, and set long-term objectives, so as to strengthen strategic planning, increase input, facilitate innovative practices and development of theories, and achieve new success in public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.

(Written by the Foreign Minister of China and published in Qiushi Journal, Issue 4, 2011)

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