Saturday, April 2, 2011

Does China's PD Have a PD Problem, or a China Problem?

Image from China Daily.

Cross-posting this week. 

We've been reading about China in class this week, and one of the questions that's arisen for me is to what extent China's public diplomacy difficulties are really public diplomacy difficulties.

Case in point, Wang states that "Misperceptions about China have formed through an interactive process. Both China and international society bring misunderstandings to the table. International society does not understand China’s national conditions, ideological estrangements, or distrust; China does not pay enough attention to the outside response and is not good at promoting itself. Realizing the limited understanding of international society, the Chinese government has actively released White Papers to explain China’s policy positions." He gives the example of a 2004 White Paper on China's human rights record, which lists international conventions China has joined, and concludes that "Such papers have successfully reduced foreign public criticism of the Chinese government and promoted China’s international image."

Of course, such a strategy is based on the assumption that attitudes about China's human rights record are formed by "the limited understanding of international society," and not, say, a very expansive and accurate understanding of China's human rights abuses.

I wrote a paper on China and Amnesty International my first semester here, and one of my findings was that China frequently pays lip service to the international community in order to reduce international pressure, but rarely makes significant concessions towards improving its human rights practices. So what one scholar might see as an attempt to correct the ignorance of foreign publics (arising, no doubt, from our tragically limited understanding) another scholar might see as an attempt to mislead them with words that obscure a true domestic policy problem.

Much as I've enjoyed this week's readings and the repeated assurances of many of the writers that China's rise is peaceful and beneficial for all, I can't help but wonder if some of them may protest too much. A common theme in many of these writings seems to be disconnect -- between China's goals and its actions, between its actions and its explanations, between its intentions and foreign understandings of them, between global values and Chinese values, and on and on.. and it seems to me that the field for resolving the conflicts may not be Public Diplomacy, but Cross-Cultural Communication and traditional Realist Political Science.

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