Public Diplomacy

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China’s Newest Charm Offensive

Since its creation by Joshua Kurlantzick in 2007, the term ‘charm offensive’ has emerged in the study of International Relations as a reference to China’s use of soft power to augment its global status and image. While the idea of China charming the world with its economic and cultural prowess has not changed too much, the ways Beijing has adopted to charm other states have diversified since. In conjunction with such developments, the term ‘public diplomacy’ has, of late, come to replace charm offensive as China’s latest offensive to improve its prestige through soft means.

In simple terms, public diplomacy refers to various ways of conducting diplomacy or fostering bilateral exchange with other countries beyond the state level. It means that besides traditional state-to-state diplomacy, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals occupy an important role in China’s latest foreign policy endeavours. Hinged on the concept of fostering people-to-people relations, China seeks to move away from the popular image of ‘China threat’ to a more cordial image of China as a friendly and peace-loving nation.

Noting China’s recent turn towards public diplomacy, this article addresses the topic in three sections. Part one examines the idea of public diplomacy and corresponding developments that took place in China since former President Hu Jintao’s emphasis on the concept in 2009. Part two looks into the idea of ‘telling a good story of China’ – an important guiding principle of China’s public diplomacy – and corresponding efforts Beijing has made towards it. Part three discusses the Confucius Institute and China Cultural Centres, and their contributions towards the goals of ‘telling a good story’ and fostering people-to-people relations. It concludes with some considerations on the challenges China may face in its public diplomacy endeavour.

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