Chinese leaders established a China Public Diplomacy Association in Beijing on December 31 last year. English-language party mouthpiece China Daily carried a news article on page 4 one day later, either because of the expected importance the new organization might carry, or because of the relative prominence of at least two participants in the event, foreign minister Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) and former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星, now chairman of the National People’s Congress foreign affairs committee).
What strikes me in the article is that Yang Jiechi isn’t his own party boss in the foreign ministry. His vice minister, Zhang Zhijun, is. Wu Bangguo on the other hand is both chairman and party secretary of the National People’s Congress (see notes underneath that post). Not sure how many ministers (if any) double as minister and their ministry’s party secretaries. At the ministry of health, it is also the vice minister who doubles as party secretary, while at the ministry of culture, the minister takes both the state and the party function. Minister of Public Security, Guo Shengkun, also doubles in both functions. He took both the positions in December.
Does this indicate something about Yang Jiechi, or about the importance of his job as foreign minister – i. e. the importance of irrelevance of diplomacy? Not necessarily. But there are other indicators, too. Yang wasn’t even a member of the 17th politbureau (let alone its standing committee). Late in November, in an article for CNN, Linda Jakobson pointed out that the power status of diplomacy within the Chinese leadership was unlikely to rise.
So, one shouldn’t expect the China Public Diplomacy Association to become a game-changer. It’s nice for the (public) diplomats that the 18th National Congress – referred to by Yang Jiechi as quoted within the article translated below – gave public diplomacy a mention in its report. But if that’s something to celebrate, it sheds a sad light on the discipline as a whole. No wonder that Zhao Qizheng, director of the CPPCCs foreign affairs committee, longs for the good old days of Zhou Enlai‘s “convivial diplomacy” (official, semi-official and people-to-people diplomacy). Zhou, after all, was a member of the politburo’s standing committee – and for the first nine years after the establishment of the PRC, he was also its foreign minister. In the 1970s, foreign relations were still a job for the top, and in February 1979, Deng Xiaoping celebrated the improving Sino-American relations with an attack on Vietnam.
We probably have to see the inaugural session of the China Public Diplomacy Association in the light of those glory days – it’s a contrast that doesn’t make either official or unofficial diplomacy look important these days.
Maybe the new situation, frequently mentioned by Yang in his congratulatory speech, is just that situation. But then again, maybe not.
Form your own opinion if you can.
Committee for Friendship with Foreign Countries of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Shanghai Committee, January 8, 2013.
Main Link: Tell China’s story well, let China’s voice be heard. China Public Diplomacy Association established, Zhou Taitong attends. (讲好中国故事 发好中国声音 中国公共外交协会成立 周太彤出席)
On December 31, 2012, the China Public Diplomacy Association inaugural meeting was held at Diaoyutai Guest House, with foreign minister Yang Jiechi, foreign ministry party secretary and vice minister Zhang Zhijun and other leaders participating and unveiling the association’s nameplate. Shanghai Municipal People’s Consultative Conference vice chairman and Shanghai Public Diplomacy Association’s vice director Zhou Taitong represented Shanghai’ Public Diplomacy Association at the meeting.
At this first general assembly, the “China Public Diplomacy Association charter (draft) was passed, National People’s Congress foreign affairs committee chairman and former foreign minister Comrade Li Zhaoxing was elected as the association’s first president.  Former ambassador to Britain and to the Council on Security Cooperation in Asia and Pacific Region Ma Zhengang;  China Museums Association deputy director, China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification director, and  Central Research Institute of Culture and History staff member Comrade Shu Yi were elected as deputy presidents, and China Institute of International Studies fellow Song Ronghua was elected secretary-general.
Minister Yang Jiechi delivered the congratulatory speech. He pointed out that public diplomacy, in a new situation, is an objective requirement for perfecting the design of our country’s diplomacy, and important in broadening our country’s diplomatic work. The 18th National Congress report says that “we must sturdily promote public diplomacy and cultural exchanges”. This exacts higher demands on the promotion of public diplomacy under the new situation. In the new situation, promoting public diplomacy and cultural exchanges means putting efforts into mutual knowledge between China and the world, deepening China’s relations with the world, as well as promoting China’s and the world’s benign interaction and common development. We must develop and expand equality and mutual trust, be tolerant of each other and learn from each other in the spirit of win-win cooperation, we must strengthen dialog and exchange with the peoples of the world, promote mutual understanding, trust, friendship, and cooperation. Developing public diplomacy requires ample use of resources from all walks of life and bringing all factors from society into play. We hope that the China Public Diplomacy Association will carry out and implement the spirit of the 18th National Congress, make major contributions to the cause of China’s public diplomacy, and build fine foundations for the public-opinion environment and the will of the people.
Yang Jiechi emphasized that public diplomacy absolutely needed innovating ways and means, strengthened communication and exchanges with the masses, it needed to draw on the wisdom and the will of the people, domestic and foreign coordination, wholistic planning of the overall domestic and foreign situations, it needed to tell China’s story well and let China’s voice be heard, it needed to explain a real China to the world, and to establish a just and comprehensive view of China.
» Destined to Fail, The Diplomat, January 7, 2013
» A related discussion, Peking Duck, Jan 7, 2013