The concept of “public diplomacy” seems grossly misunderstood in China. While most of the world uses this term to express the relationships built between nations through engaging foreign publics, this concept is a difficult one for China to grasp. According to Yiwei Wang in “Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power,” the term has been interpreted in China as the endeavor to convince the Chinese public of the legitimacy and importance of China’s foreign policies, rather than directing their efforts to the citizens of other nations.
But the publicizing and manipulating of information to its own public is not a new procedure to China. China’s long practice of internal propaganda has essentially been expanded to external audiences, but this is not in the same spirit as traditional soft power philosophies. In this way, China takes a more monologic approach to public diplomacy, rather than opening a dialogue, which seems to be the growing trend in other parts of the world. Whereas other countries understand that scrutiny and criticism are a natural and inevitable part of the discourse and transparency that come with public relations, China fights this at every level, even from the journalists and television newscasters who censor themselves on a daily basis.
China seems preoccupied with advancing its own economic and political agenda, but little else. In his article, “Chinese Soft Power in Latin America: A Case Study,” R. Evan Ellis reports that Chinese companies have proven to be “poor corporate citizens, reserving the best jobs and subcontracts for their own nationals, treating workers harshly, and maintain poor relations with the local community” (91). China has demonstrated that it has no interest in building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with other states by ignoring otherwise generally agreed upon standards. For example, it has repeatedly loaned money to developing countries with no provisions regarding the impact on the environment or human rights. While this policy may seem freeing to those countries receiving the financial assistance, this strategy undermines the legitimacy of the regulations set by other development actors and does a disservice to the international community in terms of environmental degradation and human rights violations. Wang asserts that one of the underlying assumptions in Chinese public diplomacy is that a country’s power is a direct result of its size and strength, which I think explains part of their struggle with the understanding of soft power.