Chapter 6 Pulic diplomacy (Week 10)

6.1 Discussion questions

  • Hackenesch & Bader (2020): What have you learned from this paper? How can we further this research?

  • Chu (2021): What is the main argument? Is it convincing? What additional research can be carried out? And what are the policy implications?

  • Is China’s soft power diplomacy successful (in your home country)? Why?

China criticises US diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics - BBC News

6.2 International department

Hackenesch & Bader (2020) trace the patterns of CCP’s external relations via the activities of the International Department’s activities. We can see a clear increase since 2013 from their Figure 1. The pattern aligns with a couple of points that scholars have pointed to. For instance, Sun (2017) talks about how Xi brings changes to the Chinese bureaucracy (in particular, formalizing the secondary role of MFA and promoting the role of the party branch). Wu (2021) also emphasizes the importance of FAO. Taken together, it is not that surprising that ID (which is mainly responsible for party politics) has become more active under Xi’s leadership.

That said, it does not necessarily the case that ID has played a more prominent role. For instance, if we compare it with the trends of other Chinese diplomatic activities, I bet we are going to have similar patterns. If so, it is not clear why we should buy into the conclusion that ID has been “gaining prominence” and “revitalized” given the lack of cross-institution comparisons. After all, the time trend can also be explained by more reporting and publications from China’s side or maybe simply the increasing digitization of government information. There could be several directions for us to further the research. Aside from comparing ID with other diplomatic activities, it also makes sense to study the actual effects of this party-to-party engagement (for instance, are these parties more likely to support China?).

6.3 Soft power

Chu (2021) addresses the puzzle concerning why China’s soft power efforts have not paid off despite the investment (which David Shambaugh estimates to be around $10 billion per year). One critical component many observers agree upon is the political institutions (i.e. China is not a democracy). Chu argues it is not the institutional factor per se, but rather the ideational factor. Citizens in the liberal community tend to view China negatively in the first place because China is an out-group. They tend to evaluate China from liberal democratic norms.

Empirically, the meat of the paper is that it employs a very smart survey research design. Chu embedded the survey experiment in the answers of the survey questions. The primes are discreetly hidden in the order of options that respondents are assigned to. And it nicely tease out the causal impact of the illiberal prime. I am not fully sure, however, whether it can help answer the institution vs. ideation claim though. It would convince me more it there is a similar design showcasing that institutional changes have a smaller or no effect on beliefs about China.

The flip side of Chu (2021)‘s results would be China can be more attractive to countries that do no (fully) buy into the liberal ideology. Indeed, some observers argue that “China provides a useful model for already illiberal and authoritarian-leaning political leaders and regimes to sustain themselves.” And that Western observers’ assumption that freedom and civil liberties are more desirable than economic stability and prosperity may not hold for all countries (Singapore, which I personally think was the model China tried to mimic, relies on political stability and economic growth). In this regard, a study on China’s attractiveness in less liberal countries could be a very useful to the field.

6.4 Whether and why is China’s soft power campaign failing?

Reilly (2021, 162) claim that

“Beijing’s massive soft-power campaign has proven a dismal failure.”

It raises the questions of whether and why this is the case.

6.5 Resources

AidData published a report concerning China’s public diplomacy in 2018: Ties That Bind: Quantifying China’s public diplomacy and its “good neighbor” effect. You can play around with their data here: China’s Public Diplomacy. You can also download their data here: China’s Public Diplomacy Dashboard Dataset, Version 1.2.

How Are Global Views on China Trending?, which provides a nice interactive map on different countries’ views toward China over time (using Pew Research Center’s data).

Africa: How popular is China in Africa? New survey sheds light on what ordinary people think

Europe: Survey: Europeans’ views of China in the age of COVID-19

Latin America: LAPOP Data Playground)

Asia: Globalbarometer

China’s $10bn annual spending on soft power has bought little of it

China’s Big Bet on Soft Power

Charm Offensive or Offensive Charm? An Analysis of Russian and Chinese Cultural Institutes Abroad, see also Popovic’s visulization and data on Confucius Institues here