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Confucius Institutes and China’s Soft Power

As a part of an on-going public diplomacy, I am very interested in how China’s Confucius Institutes sanitizing China’s image abroad, promoting its “soft power” globally.

According to the official announcement, Confucius Institutes are described as non-profit public institutions aligned with the government of the People’s Republic of China whose purpose is to promote Chinese language and culture, as well as facilitate cultural exchanges. This seemingly benign purpose leaves out a number of purposes both salient and sinister, namely, sanitizing China’s image abroad, promoting its “soft power” globally, and creating a new generation of China watchers who well-disposed towards the Communist dictatorship.

Other countries like France’s Alliance Francaises, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, or Germany’s Goethe Institut also promoting their soft power in this way, by maintain their presence within established universities and exercise of control on the class curriculum. However, the mainstream media has been paying close attention to this controversy over the past two years, remarkably right after the U.S. State Department complicated visa extension for Confucius Institute teachers in 2012.

While the Confucius Institutes are sometimes compared to France’s Alliance Francaise and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, this is misleading. Unlike the other two, Confucius Institutes are neither independent from their government, nor are do they occupy their own interests. Instead, they are located within well-established universities and colleges around the world, and are directed and funded by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), based in Beijing, which answers in turn to the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and, chiefly, to the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the Chairman of the Confucius Institute is none other than Liu Yandong, who served as the head of the United Front Work Department from 2002 to 2007.

The United Front Work Department is aimed of subversion, cooption and control. During the Communist revolution, it subverted and coopted a number of other political parties, such as the Chinese Socialist Party, into serving the interests of the Communist Party. After the establishment of the PRC, it continued to control these parties, which were allowed to exist on sufferance, albeit as hollow shells, to create the illusion of “democracy” in China. That it has de facto control over the Hanban suggests, more strongly than anything else, what one of the chief purposes of the Confucius Institutes are, namely, to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.

Objections to particular Confucius Institutes have also emerged. For example, in 2010, 174 University of Chicago faculty members signed a letter that, among other things, objected to the establishment of a Confucius Institute in absence of Faculty Senate approval. The letter described the institute as “an academically and politically ambiguous initiative sponsored by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” and asserted that, “Proceeding without due care to ensure the institute’s academic integrity, [the administration] has risked having the university’s reputation legitimate the spread of such Confucius Institutes in this country and beyond.”

e-Diplomacy: Power through Social Media

Hi all!

I’m still very new to the field of public diplomacy and as such I am only beginning to understand the exact scope of what it entails. I’ve spent some time on the Take Five blog and while there are many great posts to read, one in particular caught my attention.

One of the many topics I am am interested in is the role of social media in influencing relations between not only governments but between non-state actors.  Such diplomacy through social media is known as e-Diplomacy, as highlighted in the following linked blog. It was very interesting (albeit not surprising) to see the results of the research posted in this blog ( which  show that over half of the embassies researched use social media, and often use more than one social media platform at a time.

This research highlights that governments are recognizing the role and potential of social media in getting young people involved and interested in world events and issues. Traditionally public diplomacy tends to lie in the realm of governments interacting with each other, but with the popularity of social media in the public sphere this may be changing quickly (The so-called Facebook Revolution, anyone?). What this means for future policy making, if anything, would be interesting to research.  It would also be interesting to see if people really are becoming more knowledgeable of world events and issues through the use of social media.  Can “following” or “liking” an organization, program, or politician really influence the public significantly more than, say, watching the news? This would be difficult to measure, however, I feel that social media has the ability to highlight the interactive and synergistic potential of public diplomacy. I look forward to seeing what the future of e-diplomacy entails

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

-Stacey Massuda

ausis628_WEEK2_2013´s Top PD Stories

Hello all! 

My very first visit to the TakeFive blog site proved to be fruitful and very interesting! As I mentioned before, I am new to the Public Diplomacy arena and am only now beginning to understand it better. As I went along with the readings, a much more consolidated, “academic” perspective on PD took shape in my mind. But I could not help but noticing how much of it I “consumed” and came to terms with in my daily life, without knowing it was, in fact, PD. As the Pamment article mentioned, it is sometimes hard to separate PD from propaganda, especially when much of the way in which it is conducted serves the same purposes. And while many real examples began to flash in my head, the top PD stories from 2013, as summarized by the University of Southern California´s Center for PD, caught my attention. I was delighted to see that Malala´s fight for female education and peace had such impressive repercussions worldwide, surpassing a mere presence in the media spotlight by visibly positioning these debates in the actual field of global politics.

Even more than that, however, I was moved by the crucial role of Pope Francis in PD. Spirituality is an essential part of my life, and I think many people worldwide feel the same way. Thus, witnessing the outreach and revitalization of the Catholic Church in name of advancing peace, conflict resolution, and development, has been truly eye opening. It has presented a whole world of opportunities to explore and observe during 2014. In fact, another interesting post in the TakeFive blog ( positions interreligious dialogue as a vital tool for promoting peace and stability. Without a doubt, religious PD will be a major component of the “new PD” order in the coming years, albeit (or perhaps precisely because of) people´s waning confidence in religious institutions. And since 2014 seems to forebode an unprecedented year in PD, (, religion will be a fundamental player in determining how world events will begin to shift and how they will eventually play out.   

Have a wonderful long weekend in remembrance of MLK! 

Andrea 🙂

Public Sphere and Public Diplomacy- New Addition to an Old Framework?


Today, as we embark on the journey of deepening our knowledge about public diplomacy in the 21st century, I’d like to consider one particular idea that keeps coming to my mind: Is public diplomacy really a new working sphere for diplomacy and conduct of international affairs or is it just a new dimension in the long-existing framework?

The idea came to me with the publication of the NSA scandal and the revelations that have been coming since then. It seems to me that Snowden has shown us how very little do we know about the ‘real’ diplomacy and the ‘behind the scenes’ of international politics. I believe that current revelations are just the tip of the iceberg and that (unfortunately?) conduct of state affairs remains mainly in the hands of politicians and state actors while secrecy still dominates this conduct.

Across the readings for this week of the course (Hocking, Cull, Pamment) the need for wise conduct of relations with foreign publics is emphasized as a key to successful public diplomacy. It is true that public image of a country has become significantly more important than in the past and the social media, as well as the existence of non-governmental players and interests groups push the states and their diplomats towards more openness, accountability and public engagement. However in my opinion what we are facing is just a technical change. In politics, just as in private business, the public arena now plays an important role. Yet issues decided openly through this public arena are ones of low urgency or danger. Decisions regarding wars, big money, significant social changes, as was revealed by Snowden, are still conducted away from the public eye.

As globalization continues and the power of non-governmental players and interest groups rises, we might witness a change. Nevertheless for now public diplomacy seems to be just a new dimension of diplomacy, handled by adding a public affairs officer to a typical embassy team.



Welcome to the SIS 628 Course Blog! We are working to get an easier AU-based site, but we will use as our blogging tool right now.

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