China will focus on ‘building favorable external environments’

A NYT blog entry by Keith Bradsher drew my attention to a speech by President Emeritus of the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, Yang Jiemian, at an event organized on October 31st by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club.

Being a well informed and sharp observer Yang Jiemian’s speeches and writings are always worth examining. What struck me in this speech is the strong emphasis he puts on public diplomacy as a major and strategic element of China’s diplomacy.

Speech summary

In his speech Yang outlines four challenges faced by China’s foreign policy and diplomacy: (1) transforming China’s domestic and foreign policies in a way that adequately addresses the rapid changes in China’s domestic situation; (2) addressing the international community’s calls upon China to take more responsibility with regard to global issues; (3) dealing with an increasingly politically ‘complicated’ Asian neighborhood in which positive developments are overshadowed by the media’s attention to China’s maritime disputes; (4)  matching up to others in promoting and sharing China’s own ‘distinctive values’.

According to Yang, China seeks to overcome these challenges by adjusting its foreign policy and public diplomacy in four ways. The first way he mentions is by paying more attention to strategic thinking and a ‘focus on the strategic goal of building favorable external environments for China’s modernization and the nation’s renewal’. The other three are: prioritization of neighborhood diplomacy and a ‘new major countries relationship’ with the US; finding a better balance between China’s ‘practical interests’ and the country’s obligations; and a better coordination of internal and external policies by paying more attention to different interest groups within China.

 What does this speech say about China’s public diplomacy approach

 1. Role of public diplomacy will be strengthened

Yang doesn’t use the term ‘public diplomacy’ but in elaborating on the first of four adjustments in China’s foreign policy and diplomacy, he speaks twice about a new strategic focus on ‘building favorable external environments for China’s modernization’. This confirms that China seeks to further develop public diplomacy as a major strategic and integrated element of its overall diplomacy.

2. Public diplomacy towards the Asian region will be expanded

The Asian region has always been a priority in China’s public diplomacy strategy but with the continued emphasis on good-neighbor policies the efforts in Asia will likely be expanded. Yang indicates China should address the international media’s focus on China’s maritime disputes and ‘troublesome spots’ in Asia and mentions the importance of expanding and strengthening cultural and people-to-people exchanges in the region.  In the Q&A session Yang also mentions the growing involvement of a broad range of central and local players in developing China’s neighborhood diplomacy which points towards the  policy to give more room to subnational diplomacy and public diplomacy.

3. China will more actively promote Chinese values

Echoing elements of Cai Mingzhao’s speech (see my previous blog entry) Yang calls for better explaining China’s ‘distinctive values’ and ‘different expression’ of values to the world so that they will become a match for others’ (read ‘Western’) values.

This speech thus confirms three trends in China’s public diplomacy, which also emerge from recent Chinese policy documents and Chinese leaders’ speeches (see e.g. my previous entry).

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