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Event Report --- EU-China Public Diplomacy

5 May 2017

EU-China Public Diplomacy


On 3 May the EU-Asia Centre and the Confucius Institute of the VUB held a panel discussion comparing the public diplomacy of the EU and China.


Opening the meeting, Fraser Cameron, Director, EU-Asia Centre, said that countries were paying more and more attention to public diplomacy (PD) as a favourable brand image could help them achieve their foreign policy goals. Often PD reflected the leaders of countries and could change quickly eg Bush to Obama to Trump in the US.  PD was handled in a different way by different countries. One could not imagine a leak covering the details of a Xi-Putin private meeting being splashed over the pages of China Daily as the FAZ covered the Juncker-May meeting in London.


Youyi Huang, Vice President of China International Publishing, said that his goal was to inform international audiences about China’s main policies. He recalled the famous 1936 interview of Chairman Mao by Edward Snow (and his resulting book Red Star over China) that gave the world a first glimpse of the CCP. The CCP approach to PD was evolving fast – moving from books and periodicals to TV and websites to social media. The government is trying to learn how to be a good story teller. It was also aware that its companies and tourists could have a big impact on PD. He was now involved with the Charhar institute which was researching on how to improve China’s PD. He agreed that PD was not simply a case of money. You had to have a good message eg OBOR and be sensitive to cultural differences eg Pakistan, where China lagged behind the UK and US.


Michael Mann, Head of Strategic Communications, EEAS, agreed that there was much to learn from each other. With his background as a journalist he could see communication from both sides. The EU was a complicated animal with 28 main stakeholders plus the various EU institutions to satisfy. Too often the member states had used Brussels as a scapegoat – so Brexit not too surprising. Perhaps the EU had been too cautious in the past but it was also in a steep learning curve due to the pace of change both in the EU and the wider world.


The Strategic Communications Division provides round-the-clock professional support to the HR/VP in all her public diplomacy activities. This includes support to her press relations, web-based communication and social media, speeches, articles, graphic design and audio-visual materials. StratComs also provides tailor-made communications guidance and support to the EU's network of 140 Delegations and offices around the world.


There was an internal-external connection as important to sell the EU outside but also explain how the EU was perceived to its citizens. It was important to counter populist fears and explain the EU better to younger audiences. The HR/VP was good on social media and keen to introduce new ideas eg establishment of the East StratCom Task Force to expose Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns and provide factual information about the EU to Eastern Partnership countries. It also supported efforts to strengthen local media. In the end the EU would be judged in the success of its policies, not its communications. He was complimentary on the rapid progress of Chinese PD.


Xinning Song, China Director, Confucius Institute at VUB and Brussels Academy for China and European Studies, said that there were on-going debates in China about the nature of PD. Should it just be through government channels or by different channels?

The Confucius institute was as much a target of Chinese PD as a tool. He thought the EU was doing a good job of PD in China. There are three Jean Monnet Centres with many students doing European studies in China. This may be part of the reason why, China supports EU integration.


Shada Islam, Director of Policy, Friends of Europe, said that PD was essentially a battle for hearts and minds. In today’s world everyone was a diplomat, including the passport official on arrival in a foreign country – plus tourists, students, journalists, artists, etc. Social media was important but one you nor forget or neglect traditional media. PD was not just about the message but about the policy. You had to have an authentic message to connect with people. China was doing well at PD and President’s Xi’s Davos speech and OBOR were two good examples. She thought China’s brand would now depend on its handling of the DPRK issue, OBOR and its attitude to Africa. The EU’s brand would depend on its economic and social success, Brexit, its handling of refugee and coping with Islamic extremism.


In the discussion there were questions raised about the post-truth world, the role of Chinese companies, OBOR and the methodology and definition of PD.