Just in time for our week of readings focusing on Chinese Public diplomacy efforts comes the first visit of a Chinese leader, President Xi Jingping, to European Union institutions in Brussels! Originally for this blog post, I wanted to focus on the Melisson and Cross piece for the Clingendael Institute about how the EU can address its own PD dilemma, but I’ll have to save that for later, because I ran across this priceless article that I think perfectly illustrates China’s “charm offensive” approach to Public Diplomacy: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140331/world/China-s-panda-diplomacy-to-ease-EU-talks.512925
Two pandas (Xing Hui and Hao Hao) are being used as official envoys for China; they were sent to visit a Belgian zoo a month ahead of Xi’s visit, partly in order to send a message to the EU that China is willing to take a less confrontational stance on trade issues and ready to resolve trade disputes. One of the top items of President Xi’s agenda in Europe is pushing the EU to consider a massive free-trade deal with China. Interestingly, the visit of the two furry ambassadors has had some unintended diplomatic consequences; it has irritated long standing regional rivalries in Belgium. The pandas are being housed in a zoo in the French-speaking region of Wallonia (hometown of Belgian PM Elio di Rupo), which has angered the largest zoo in the country, located in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and caused separatist Flanders politician Bart de Waver to show up on a TV talk show dressed as a panda! http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-s-xi-seeks-win-win/1054644.html
It remains to be seen whether Xi’s desire to show a softer, fuzzier side of China to the EU will have its intended effect: it’s being reported that most of the EU member states have resisted Chinese pressure to include references to a joint-trade pact in the joint statement that will be released after Xi’s visit with leaders in Brussels.