One of the biggest spenders in the worldwide information space has made the U.S. population a prime target in its attempts to secure a more flattering image of itself on the international stage: China. The country’s efforts to reach Americans and overcome its general lack of credibility come with a significant price tag. The Communist Party of China has spent around $6 billion in the past few years on media campaigns in the U.S.
China’s efforts put an interesting twist on the U.S.’s own public diplomacy attempts to reach international audiences in an attempt to bolster U.S. objectives abroad, whether through Twitter diplomacy, education exchanges or other similar efforts.
As China becomes both an economic and political power, the threat it poses to U.S. supremacy has given China a global image problem. To thwart this perception, China has leveraged showcase events like the 2008 Beijing Winter Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, in addition to more traditional methods of strengthening Chinese soft power.
Chinese diplomatic efforts in the U.S. have focused primarily on advertising campaigns and other soft power initiatives to drive positive public opinion of China. Notably, the government-run Xinhua News (with an office in NYC) has a national broadcasting station in the U.S. as well as online resources. Other efforts include the Confucius Institutes which aim to promote cross-cultural exchanges, although they are sometimes viewed as “Chinese foreign propagandists.”
The Chinese government’s soft power initiatives also help to satisfy the country’s seemingly insatiable demand for natural resources. The Chinese government’s work in Africa trade infrastructure development for access to the continent’s natural resources. However, rumors of human rights violations and lack of adherence to democratic principles in general make diplomatic efforts essential for China in this region. The expansion of China’s state news agency Xinhua to Nairobi, Kenya, is meant to thwart biased Western views of China. Particularly in countries where China takes an investment-for-resource approach to foreign policy, effective public diplomacy efforts are vital.
Generating credibility is at the root of public diplomacy efforts and China’s “peaceful rise’ is contingent on its ability to effectively target and influence audiences in the U.S. and abroad. With billions invested so far, will China improve its image among Americans and even best American influence in diplomacy efforts in Africa and worldwide?