In recent years, China has faced many challenges in its informal diplomacy. While dealing with developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, China has been targeted. While investing in countries along the Belt and Road corridors, China also faced many challenges in advancing its soft power. Moreover, for people outside of China, the image of China is monolithic, whether it be international students, businessmen, or citizens in general.
Some Chinese people argue that there is nothing they can do to change this situation. For instance, the Chinese government set up Confucius Institutes to promote cultural exchanges. As a result, however, Confucius Institutes are seen as cultural expansionism and resisted by some outside of China. The Chinese government also invested heavily in CGTN, hoping to promote a positive image of China, but it was regarded as propaganda with no basis for credibility.
Indeed, the Chinese government has made enough diplomatic efforts, but what about individual Chinese people representing China’s national image?
From my point of view, I do not believe that the present diplomatic relations are immutable — provided that Chinese people are willing to adjust the objectives and modalities of China’s informal diplomacy strategy.
First of all, diplomacy includes official diplomatic communications and unofficial diplomatic exchanges such as people-to-people diplomacy (informal diplomacy strategy). Intergovernmental relations in official capacity are all games of interest. “There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” And China has attached great importance to this aspect and has been very experienced in handling intergovernmental relations. However, we have not established a cordial civil relationship with other countries.
Many Chinese people are not really aware of how they could help shape informal diplomatic relations. In short, informal diplomacy may sound less important than formal diplomacy, but in liberal democracies, it plays a crucial role in intergovernmental relations as representatives need to be elected by people and held accountable to public opinion. Also, the officials in foreign governments who play a decision-making role today were ordinary people who grew up in ordinary families at the beginning. Therefore, informal diplomacy is the cornerstone of formal diplomacy.
For China, non-official diplomatic relations should be taken more seriously. Or rather, good informal diplomacy and winning the supports of people in other countries should be the new focus in the Belt and Road era.
But why should China gain international approval?
First of all, gaining a more positive international image does not mean to please anyone, but to use appropriate communication skills to create a diverse, sincere and positive image of China, making the world willing to listen to the Chinese people’s voice and respect Chinese culture.
Some may refer to this as lacking principles, but it is not true. While enhancing China’s international image, Chinese people must maintain China’s soul and features. A nation without a foundation and confidence will never be able to obtain respect and recognition.
So how can China improve its informal diplomatic relations?
First of all, adjust the aim to “enhance the international image of Chinese people “. If the goal is unachievable, then it’s meaningless to make efforts.
Any government, no matter how much contribution it makes, cannot avoid being criticized by the people of “have not done enough”. Therefore, in informal diplomacy, the priority should be enhancing the image of Chinese people rather than the Chinese government.
After all, the responsibility to make fundamental change lies in each individual, not the government. If people outside of China like Chinese people, they will naturally like this country made up of people, and this will be beneficial to China as a country. What’s more, this group of people can speak for the Chinese government on the international stage as they are trusted, appreciated, and respected. If Chinese people are not popular in the world, then people will not listen to or believe what they say and only believe in the misinterpreted facts.
So, how can Chinese people win the hearts of people outside of China?
First, Chinese people need to have stay clam when communicating their messages. One irritable person will easily be regarded as unreasonable, which is the same in international civil relations. People need to be sensible, logical, and polite. Even if getting misunderstood, he or she must respond politely.
Secondly, individuals need to improve his or her international perspective and understanding of the world. Only when he or she knows different values and cultures and respects the divergence among different countries, he or she can know how to communicate with others comfortably.
Thirdly, Chinese people need to be globally competitive. To many foreigners, there is the stereotype that Chinese people are smart and hardworking but lacking research skills. As a result, it is hard for Chinese people to understand unfamiliar cultures, countries, and organizational forms. Also, it might be difficult for Chinese people to proactively approach strangers, establish friendships, and build social networks, which will cause a gap in communication between foreigners and us. If aiming to win public support, acquiring these skills is essential for dealing with the world.
Finally, more Chinese people should have a sense of global citizenship and sincerely care about what’s happening globally. More Chinese people need to care more about the environmental protection issues in this world and marginalized and potentially vulnerable communities. To this end, more Chinese people need to embrace the values of global citizenship–before being Chinese, each individual is first a human.
It is not easy to do this. One solution is to cultivate a group of “pioneers” with international views, global competitiveness, and consciousness as global citizens. They can go abroad to give a good Chinese narrative and better communicate China’s image.
Also, more Chinese people need to aquire those skills and understand China at a national level. Otherwise, the efforts of a small number of “Chinese global citizens” may be undermined by the poor behaviors of others—such as some Chinese tourists abroad.
If what is mentioned above is achieved, people outside of China will contain more positive images of the Chinese people and feel more favorably about China. At that time, China could communicate with the world as a diverse figure.
By Hong from China House
Translated by Boyana and Carol