Asia Pacific

I’ve been tracking elements of China’s complicated and ambitious policy of expanding its information sphere to a possibly waiting world. In late May, I heard Dr. Hu Zhengrong, one of China’s most distinguished ambassadors to the international academic world, give a talk on this “going out” policy to the International Communications Association in Boston.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is pressing ahead on a high profile public diplomacy campaign to secure support for Australia’s bid to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for 2013-14. There is much to be said about the public diplomacy value of political leaders in such campaigns. Kevin Rudd is a case in point. Previously Australia’s Prime Minister, Rudd is already well known and regarded among political and intellectual elite audiences across the globe.

China’s quest for “soft power” in recent years is a direct consequence of its dramatic economic transformation over the last several decades. It is now an all-too-familiar story of how China is vigorously pursuing image-building efforts, from the global expansion of its media properties to the rapid growth of the Confucius Institutes. This has become particularly poignant at a time when, in stark contrast, the U.S. public diplomacy enterprise is facing shrinking budgets.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program has been around since 1987. This program, the largest component of which places native English speakers in Japan’s junior and senior high schools for year-long tours of duty as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), has thousands of alumni from around the world – more than 20,000 from the United States alone.

On numerous levels, the United States continues to fall farther behind China in public diplomacy. This is yet another indication that for all its protestations about its commitment to reach out to foreign publics, the U.S. government is unwilling to commit the resources needed to do so effectively.

January 26, 2011

Last week, China unveiled an ad campaign on the jumbotron screens in New York City’s Times Square to promote its national image. The two 30-second spots, titled “Experience China,” feature the country’s celebrities and luminaries from different walks of life. So, like many other countries, China is now taking a page out of the Madison-Avenue playbook to try to get its message out.

As Secretary Hillary Clinton stated last week, U.S.-China relations are now at “a critical juncture.” Public diplomacy plays a crucial role in steering this vital relationship in a positive direction.