The following are excerpts from a Huanqiu Shibao interview with Zhao Qizheng (赵启正). Zhao, currently the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s” news spokesman, also referred to the public-diplomacy functions in this interview, as he sees them as elements of diplomacy, and therefore as additional reasons for Chinese diplomats to “strengthen communication with the [Chinese, that is] public”.
If you go by Huanqiu’s readership – it’s a paper where nationalist feelings aren’t necessarily discouraged by the editorial departments -, Zhao could have reasons to be worried. Huanqiu readers frequently suspect diplomats to be pragmatists, i. e. people who would never throw themselves into international struggles whole-heartedly, but rather issue lame and inefficient statements opposing the enemy’s (particularly American or Japanese) moves.
Links within blockquote added during translation.
Huanqiu: Currently, some quarters among the netizens are rather excited and frequently complain that “China’s diplomacy isn’t cool”. How, do you think, should the government disperse this kind of impression in the public?
Zhao: Communication must be strengthened. The foreign ministry and diplomtic departments should communicate more, with the pubic. Some of us Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference delegates , those who have once been stationed at embassies abroad, or are diplomacy experts, should go to the universities more frequently and explain our diplomatic policies. If communication isn’t strengthened, both sides will have views of their own, which can’t lead to agreement.
Now, the young get on the internet to read news, while older people look at the traditional media. People also don’t always attach the same importance to the same things. That’s a problem. This gap between the generations isn’t only one of generation and age, but it is also that they read different channels. The sticking points on the internet and in the traditional media aren’t really the same ones, nor are the contents which are expressed in videos or language. If information is the atmosphere, different audiences are breathing different layers of it. Only more communication can remove misunderstandings on both sides.
Huanqiu: Do you think that the netizens’ judgment of the state of China’s foreign policy reflects the real situation?
Zhao: The public’s attitudes towards China’s diplomacy are diverse. Many of them are accurate, based on patriotic enthusiasm. Many of these views are useful and constructive. But there are also netizens whose observations of diplomacy are lacking depth. This isn’t about blaming them, it’s only because they are still rather young.
A most typical example is the China in 2030 report, published by the State Council’s Research Center and the World Bank. Many people condemned this as “poison”, demanding that state enterprises should not be privatized. But the entire report doesn’t mention privatization at all. Do a search of it, and you won’t find a word of it there. A report of more than 400 pages, and without having seen it, criticism started on the internet. What you criticize isn’t to be found there at all. What does this tell us?
So, netizens should calm down, and look at this issue rationally. I won’t simply criticize diplomacy or any of its particulars; I particularly encourage all departments to strengthen communication, to hold more conferences, to enable the public to understand them.
A detailed account of Zhao’s views on public diplomacy (as of 2009) can be found here.
» The Adequate Adversary, Aug 13, 2010