Tag Archives: SIS 628

Analyzing China’s Struggles With Its Soft Power Initiatives

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Last week I submitted a comment briefly centering on Taiwan’s complicated history and how it affects its current PD strategies, and this week I’ll focus on the efficacy of China’s current public diplomacy attempts (yes, yet another blog piece about China). I hope not to pigeonhole myself into writing solely about these two interconnected though distinct nations, but comparing and contrasting the nature of their PD strategies offer salient points for understanding the core values of public diplomacy.

Recently it was through reading this article as well as having a few conversations with other like-minded individuals that enlightened me to recognizing another face of public diplomacy. Last week we discussed sparingly about the differences, if any, between public diplomacy and propaganda. Although I still stand by my assertion that they are essentially one and the same in their basic goal of disseminating information with the goal of influencing decision-making processes, I also recognized the similarities between public diplomacy and marketing strategies. Both attempt to sell an image or brand to be consumed by target audiences.

As the article I linked to mentioned, understanding PD from this interpretation can explain why China constantly experiences failures with its soft power initiatives. China has attempted in recent years to convincing the world, especially the West, that it is committed to peacefully integrating itself into the current world order as it rises in economic power and political clout. But every soft power effort is undermined by aggressive tactics like naval confrontations in the South China Sea / Senkaku Islands and the recent ADIZ announcement (not to mention petty actions including their paltry aid contributions to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan as punishment for South China Sea conflicts). Thus consumers have a difficult time separating the image of China as an aggressive, authoritarian state from that portrayed in their soft power efforts as a peaceful nation, which is why consumers are so reluctant to embrace this peaceful image of China. As the article also mentions, China does not help itself through its heavy censuring and control of any information released internationally as well as inability to target its core audience (Millenials) due to blocking of integral social media sites like Facebook.

Although I do apologize for contributing yet another piece about China, it really should attract a good majority of our focus as students of public diplomacy because both it and Taiwan offer strong, relevant case studies in how countries struggle with separating their hard power images from their public diplomacy efforts, how public diplomacy strategies are evolving in this Age of Technology, and what constitutes the basic core of each nation’s public diplomacy (hint: cultural identity).

HuffPost launches WorldPost

 

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On January 8th, the Huffington Post announced the creation of WorldPost. This is how The Guardian portrayed it: “The 1% are about to get their own publication. The digital media titan Arianna Huffington and the billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen on Wednesday announced the launch of World Post, a comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet.” (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jan/08/world-post-news-website-launches-huffington) World Post was officially launched at Davos, during the World Economic Forum. This was no coincidence, considering it is the hub where many of the world´s most influential leaders, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and policy-shapers converge. These are people with vast power to shape our everyday lives. Now some of them, including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and both Microsoft’s and Google’s masterminds, will seek to influence our minds through the soft power of the media. They will be some of the big names contributing to the HuffPost’s latest expansive project. However, what the creators of this joint venture insist makes it different is that it will be a space as much for the powerful as for the ordinary people like you and me. They are seeking to establish partnerships with local media institutions around the world, in addition to the team of correspondents already in action in 10 countries, and the creation of new correspondence positions across Beirut, Beijing, Cairo, and more locations. 

This organizational scheme is supposed to be based on cooperation amongst the different actors for the common purpose of giving life to the World Post. Indeed, it is supposed to mirror the structure already in place, whereby the HuffPost maintains alliances with key international media editors and agenda-setters. Considering the growth and reach of Huffington Post in the last couple of years, it makes sense how they would grab this opportunity to spread their interests and perspectives further. In words of its global news editor, Peter Goodman, “We have an incredible opportunity to use the pieces we already have on the board to speak to our existing audience and grow that audience simply by embracing the fact that we are an international entity.” There’s never been a better time for them to do it, taking advantage of the media revolution, the importance and influence media channels such as these hold over citizens and governments worldwide, and the nature of our interconnected world. 

As soon as I saw the headline announcing the creation of World Post, I thought “there goes an authentic PD effort.” The statements issued by Huffington, Berggruen, and the rest of the staff underscore this. Without a doubt, here is an example of how international communication venues, the mass media, non-state actors, and even states themselves, even if indirectly, come together to shape a PD initiative. As Gilboa mentioned in his critical article, there is no single definition to PD. More than ever, it must be seen as the increasingly interdependent, interdynamic phenomenon it is. It is no longer possible to separate its parts from its purpose. The creation of World Post is, in my opinion, the very reality of what public diplomacy is. I find it hard to further elaborate this point, as I feel that what World Post is and symbolizes speaks for itself. Undoubtedly, it will become an essential actor in the shaping of international perspectives both at home and abroad, both about the US and about the rest of the world. This actor is not merely restricted to its role as a powerful media outlet (and thus, an agenda setter), but also as a representative of public opinion, civil society, influential non-state elite members, the powerful within (Western) states, and those alternative, still unknown voices fighting for a chance to practice PD too– their public diplomacy. Hence, it will be interesting to monitor and critically analyze how PD plays out coming from the same venue, but not from the same sphere of power. There is a new opportunity for the “common citizens” to engage in dialogue and influence with broader actors across the world. It remains to be seen whether their voices will exercise considerable pressure upon the NPD practiced by the more recognized members of World Post, their audiences, backers, and sponsors, and end up creating a need for even more updated, interdisciplinary paradigms of what NPD is and can be in the 21st Century. 

For more on this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/covering-the-world-introducing-the-worldpost_b_4637990.html