Building a harmonious socialist society is the aspiration of the Chinese people, as well as a basic state policy. Strengthening international exchanges and cooperation and accelerating the development of a harmonious world is in the interest of all countries and will help to improve China's position in the international environment. China believes in resolving conflict and differences in the international community through dialogue, and this incorporates not only governments but members of the wider public. Public diplomacy encompasses the various forms of dialogue that occur outside official diplomacy.
Public diplomacy occurs between nations and aims to explain a foreign country's conditions and policies. It generally takes the form of cultural dissemination. It plays a significant role and supports government diplomacy. The main players in public diplomacy include various government departments, but also non-government organizations, such as civil societies, universities, research institutions, media, religious organizations and specific persons of standing. These parties and individuals are able to get involved in international exchanges and explain a nation's conditions and foreign polices from a different perspectives to foreign NGOs, the general public and even government institutions. It plays a wider role than the more familiar civil diplomacy.
Through public diplomacy, foreign societies can be accessed more widely and directly. Public diplomacy spreads Chinese culture and increases political influence more efficiently, improving the world's opinion of China and safeguarding national interests. In today's world, the development of a country is no longer solely determined by internal conditions; the international environment also plays a role, in which the political, economic and military climates are factors, as is public opinion.
Due to ideological differences and interest clashes, Western media often publish biased or seriously distorted reports about China, and promote such ideas as the "China threat theory". There are ideological gaps between Western and Chinese politicians, and through the powerful media machine in the West, misunderstandings about China have occurred. Typically misinterpreted issues include "socialism with Chinese characteristics", which is perceived as lacking diplomacy; the build-up of China's national military defense capabilities, which is seen as part of a desire for military hegemony; China's economic growth, which is thought to be responsible for rising unemployment abroad; and China's African policy, which is regarded as "neo-colonialism".
Ignorance, misunderstanding and bias towards China will benefit neither China nor the world, for bias will send their China policies way off course. A more accurate understanding of China, the world's largest developing nation with a population of 1.3 billion, would be better for their fundamental interests and is also important for global harmony. However, we can't expect foreign media to portray China justly, or close the opinion gap they have created. China must present an accurate picture of itself to the world. The expansion of reform and opening up is necessary for the nation's peaceful development. In this regard, China should not only listen, but talk back. Traditional publicity is an important part of modern public diplomacy, but covers a wider range of domains. Public diplomacy is evident at every international event, and reflects the image of a nation. It could be a Chinese cultural fair, an academic seminar, a fair promoting Chinese exports, or even a talk between a Chinese person and a foreigner. As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and 2010 Shanghai Expo approach, we must ensure these occasions are grand gatherings that present an accurate image of China and increase its influence. Urgent work must be done to plan public diplomacy strategies.
The author, Zhao Qizheng, is the deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPPCC National Committee and president of the Journalism School of Renmin University; translated by People's Daily Online