Megacity Chongqing’s potential as ‘strategic pivot’ of the New Silk Road

By Ingrid d’Hooghe and Dong Chen[1]

In the first 6 months of 2015, the Chinese megacity Chongqing posted the country’s highest growth rate, 11 per cent, just like it did in 2014 with a growth rate of 10.9 per cent. Not yet a household name in Europe, Chongqing municipality, which is twice the size of the Netherlands and home to more than 34 million residents, 9 million of which live in the core city, is well known in China. Not only for its spicy hot pot and foggy weather, but, more importantly, for its rapid transformation from a dusty traditional industrial city into an advanced manufacturing and services center, in particular in areas such as IT, medical and automotive industries. Today the municipality is the largest shipping center on the upper reach of the Yangtze and more than two hundred of the World Fortune Top 500 companies have set up branches in this emerging metropolis, among them Hewlett-Packard, BP, BASF, and Carrefour. Chongqing is doing well and officials have great ambitions for the municipality’s future. Recently they have been promoting the city as the ‘strategic pivot‘ of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt, and as industrial hinterland of the Maritime Silk Road (One Belt and One Road (OBOR)). Is this wishful thinking or does Chongqing really have the potential to play a central role in the OBOR strategy? And what do they have to offer Dutch business?

Favorably located in the upstream Yangtze River basin, the city has long been recognized for its potential as a major transportation hub. As early as 1891 it became the first inland commerce port to open up to foreigners and during World War II, with the Kuomintang government and more than 30 embassies moving to the city, Chongqing became China’s provisional capital. Many industries followed the KMT government, helping Chongqing to industrialize at a fast pace. In 1997 the development of Chongqing got a new boost when the city and its neighboring areas and towns became the 4th national-level municipality, after Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. Over the past decade Chongqing has been able to benefit from being designated in 2007 as a ‘key region for comprehensive experimental reform’, and the establishment in 2010 of the Liangjiang New Area national level development zone.

Liangjiang New Area has become the engine of Chongqing’s growth. The area includes Jiangbei International Airport; China’s largest inland port: Guoyuan Harbor; Lianglu Cuntan Port; and the YuXinOu – Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe – International Railway. Chongqing thus forms a traffic hub that integrates railway, highway, shipping and air transportation. The municipality has announced that it will invest up to US$190 billion in infrastructure by 2020, including the constructing of a new shipping center. With the latter Chongqing will establish itself as the western hub of the so-called ‘Yangtze River economic belt‘, an initiative launched by China’s State Council in 2014. Reflecting the aims of OBOR, the initiative aims to develop the Yangtze River into an inland river economic belt, linking China’s huge inland markets to the Silk Road economic belt and offering opportunities for foreign investors to expand China’s inland markets.

Another infrastructure project Chongqing invests in is the YuXinOu (Chongqing – Xinjiang – Europe) international railway, which connects the Chongqing Free Trade Port in the Liangjiang New Area with Duisburg (Germany). Transportation via the YuXinOu railway takes an average of only 15 days which means goods are delivered twice as fast as via the traditional maritime routes through China’s coastal ports. While one-fifth of the costs of air transportation, railway freight costs are much higher than shipping transport and its volume capacity is much lower. This overland connection, therefore, is only interesting for specific products that are not too voluminous and that benefit from a quick delivery.

One of the products that Chongqing has started transporting via the YuXinOu Railway to Europe is coffee, which is produced in large quantities in the neighboring province of Yunnan and in other nearby Asian countries and bought by European companies such as Nestlé. In cooperation with Hogood Co. (后谷)one of China’s major coffee producers, Chongqing YuXinOu Logistics Company plans to transport 30,000 – 50,000 tons of coffee to Europe in 2015. By 2018 Chongqing hopes to transport over 1 million tons of coffee from countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, to Europe and the megacity’s aspiration is to become the world’s third-largest coffee futures market after New York and London. Chongqing furthermore invests in the development of the region as a base for emerging sustainable industries. On June 15, for example, Liangjiang Zone launched a large-scale industry fund of CNY 20 billion ($3.22 billion) to support emerging industries such as robotics, shipping, medical innovation and green automobiles.

As fastest growing region in China, gateway to the huge domestic consumption market in the west of China, and beneficiary of preferential policies, Chongqing has much to offer as OBOR hub and as destination for foreign investment. The presence of Dutch business in Chongqing is still rather limited but the Dutch government has recognized the growing importance of the megacity: in 2014 it opened a Consulate-General in Chongqing which focuses on helping Dutch companies expand their business in West China. Chongqing, in its turn, opened a Government Logistics Council Office in Rotterdam, which seeks to help Chongqing benefit from the logistics advantages of the Netherlands. Opportunities in the megacity for Dutch companies lie in areas such as smart logistics and supply chain solutions, but also in clean energy (especially wind power), dairy industry, agribusiness, and high-tech. Dutch business, therefore, would do well to more actively explore what Chongqing has to offer them.

[1] Dong Chen is MA-student International Relations and Diplomacy at Leiden University and intern at China Relations.

THE SOFT POWER OF CHINA’S LUNAR NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS: EVEN BRITISH PRIME MINISTER CAMERON WANTS A PIECE OF THE PIE.

With China’s Lunar New Year Gala TV-show going global, parades and Lion Dances in hundreds of Chinatowns around the globe, Lunar New Year concerts by Lang Lang (Toronto),  and Yo-Yo Ma (New York), and NBA-teams wearing special Chinese New Year jerseys, it is difficult not to note that China is ringing in the Year of the Goat. The growing number of extensive Chinese Spring Festival celebrations around the world is a result of Chinese cultural diplomacy as well as companies around the world trying to get a piece of the Chinese pie. And, by the way, not just companies reach out to China and overseas Chinese. British Prime Minister Cameron too extends his best wishes to the Chinese people in an open letter in which he draws attention to British brands and universities. And even Prince William, who will visit China next month, wishes people in China Happy New Year, in Chinese.

More than 5 million Chinese will travel abroad during this year’s Spring Festival. The majority (90%) of these tourists will head for Asian destinations but the numbers travelling to Europe are also on the rise. The most popular European destination this time of the year is Italy. To lure Chinese travelers, department stores in major cities, from Tokyo to Amsterdam are offering special Spring Festival activities and customer services, and luxury brands such as Mulberry and Swatch have created special Chinese New Year items: a Chinese New Year Mini Cara Delevingne Bag and Goat Keepers watch respectively. Restaurants create Lunar New Year menu’s, universities open their doors for Chinese festivities and Municipal Boards and Trade Promotion Councils around the globe are happy to host Chinese New Year receptions. Since 2010, the Chinese Ministry of Culture has been officially promoting Chinese New Year celebrations abroad. This year it organizes, for example,  Lunar New Year cultural festivals in cities abroad, and it endorses programmes like the fireworks show over the Hudson River in New York, which is organized by the prestigious China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). According to Chinese Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang, more than 800 programs of the “Happy Chinese New Year 2015” have so far been staged in 320 cities in 118 countries and regions worldwide. New this year is a global contest in which contestants can post essays, photos and videos about the Spring Festival to social media networks. Overseas Chinese communities play an important role in creating global awareness of the festival and this is also the time of the year for Chinese leaders and Chinese embassies abroad to reach out to the more than 50 million overseas Chinese in efforts to strengthen ties between them and their motherland. Whereas commercial interests may be a major reason behind the increased attention the world is paying to Chinese New Year, the Chinese government is very happy with all the positive attention that these celebrations draw to China and Chinese culture. The Chinese Ministry of Culture, therefore, can be expected to continue expanding its Chinese New Year program. Though successful, the program can use some fresh ideas, especially if policy-makers want to reach young audiences. For inspiration they could take a look at taxi-hailing app Uber, who offers a Chinese New Year Special Service, allowing Chinese customers to order lion dancers to their door.

Financing China’s Silk Road plans: the Silk Road Fund

Part 2 of a series on China’s Silk Road. (For the Dutch version, see http://www.chinarelations.nl)

China’s Silk Road strategy (One Belt, One Road, 一带 一路) is ambitious and costly. The construction of roads, railways, port facilities, commercial centers and energy infrastructure will require huge and long-term investments. China is willing to provide a big part of the necessary investment but hopes and expects that the countries along the Silk Road will also raise money. Many of these countries, however, are too poor to do so and the contribution of international institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which also invests in connectivity in Central Asia via its ‘CAREC 2020‘ program, will remain limited. China has recently established two funds that will help the country realize its plans: the Silk Road Fund (丝路 基金) and the Energy Development Fund. (能源 发展 基金)

Today (02/16/2015) Chinese newspapers reported that the Silk Road Fund has already begun its work and that the first board meeting of the Fund took place on 6 January of this year. The fund aims to raise 40 billion US dollars, 65% of which will come from China’s foreign currency reserves. The remaining 35% will come from the sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation (CIC) and two policy banks: China’s Export-Import Bank and the China Development Bank. The Fund enjoys the  support of the Chinese government but here are still many uncertainties regarding its operation and there will be numerous challenges ahead. Previously established Chinese funds, such as the China-Africa Development Fund (CADF) and the China-ASEAN Fund, have encountered many problems. According to Chinese magazine Caixin, CADF and the China-ASEAN Fund have so far failed to raise the intended amount of money and have had difficulties to gain local authorities’ support for projects. As a result, Caixin writes, the China-ASEAN Fund has up till now raised only 1 billion instead of its goal of 10 billion US dollars and the CADF has invested less than half of the money it has under its management.

In a recent interview to the First Financial Daily 第一财经报 (published in the Chinese edition of the Global Times, 02/16/2015),  the Governor of China’s Central Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, provided more insight into the operation of the Silk Road Fund. According to Zhou the Silk Road Fund is not a sovereign wealth fund but a private equity fund aimed at long-term investments. The fund is denominated in foreign currency and welcomes domestic and foreign investors. Zhou emphasized that the Silk Road Fund will not become a competitor to CIC, China’s Export-Import Bank and the China Development Bank, but will seek close cooperation. As was recently announced, the China Development Bank, will no longer function as a commercial bank but will return to its original function as a policy bank, which provides loans at the request of the government. This close cooperation with policy banks raises the question if the Silk Road Fund will be able to judge projects on the basis of commercial viability.

Zhou further indicated that the recruitment of good staff is one of the major challenges for the Silk Road Fund. The Central Bank has helped the fund getting established, says Zhou, but it now needs to function independently. Staff members should not only possess financial expertise but should also have knowledge of the political and economic situation in the countries in which the fund intends to invest. The staff should furthermore include people that speak a relevant foreign language. The search for talent will continue for some time but several key positions have now been filled. The Silk Road Fund is led by prominent economist Jin Qi, assistant of Central Bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. Jin is believed to have much relevant knowledge and experience. The same is said of Wang Yanzhi of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), who has been appointed as General Manager of the fund. A third appointment concerned Zhu Surong, who is the head of the Central Bank’s branch office in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China, as a member of the Board of Directors.

The question is whether the Silk Road Fund will be able to avoid the problems met by previously established Chinese funds but given the prestige involved in the Silk Road plans, the Chinese government will do everything possible to have the fund achieve its objectives.

Sources

ADB, ‘A Strategic Framework for the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program 2011–2020’ (2012), http://www.carecprogram.org/uploads/docs/CAREC-Publications/2012/CAREC-2020-Strategic-Framework.pdf

周小川:丝路基金起航 不是中国版马歇尔计划 (Zhou Xiaochuan: the Silk Road Fund is not a  Chinese version of the Marshall Plan), http://finance.huanqiu.com/hongguan/2015-02/5700529.html

Zhang Yuzhe, ‘With New Funds, China Hits a Silk Road Stride’, Caixin (December 3, 2014), http://english.caixin.com/2014-12-03/100758419.html

Zhang Yuzhe, ‘CDB Told to Return to Policy Bank Role It Left Years Ago’, Caixin (February 3, 2015), http://english.caixin.com/2015-02-03/100781193.html

Zhang Yuzhe, ‘Gov’t Said to Name Three to Silk Road Fund Leadership Team’, Caixin (February 5, 2015) http://english.caixin.com/2015-02-05/100781902.html

Why Dutch Prime Minister Rutte will attend the Boao Forum 2015.

Last week it was announced that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will visit China from 24-29 March 2015. Besides visiting Shanghai and Shenzhen, he will also travel to the South-Chinese island of Hainan to participate in the Boao Forum for Asia. Why would Prime Minister Rutte be interested in attending a forum that is hardly known in Europe?

The Boao Forum – named for the Chinese coastal city of Boao where the forum takes place – was officially established in 2001 by a number of Asian countries including China, Australia, Japan, and the Philippines, with the aim to promote regional development and integration. From the beginning, however, China has been the driving force behind the organization. The annual forum for government leaders, politicians, business leaders, Nobel laureates, and media takes does not only take place in China, its agenda is also largely shaped by China. Although the Board of the organization is chaired by former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, its secretariat is located in Beijing and the Forum enjoys continued attention and support from the Chinese government.

The format of the Forum is highly reminiscent of the World Economic Forum in Davos, and that is exactly China’s intention. Beijing hopes that the Boao Forum will become an equally successful Asian counterpart of the Davos Forum and it is not unlikely that the forum will one day achieve that goal. It is the largest international forum in Asia and the list of participating leaders – especially from the Asian region – and CEOs of major banks and companies like Samsung, KPMG, Microsoft, Gazprom and Lenovo, is expanding year by year. In 2014 the list included the prime ministers of China, Australia, South Korea and Pakistan. The list of high-level participants in this year’s forum is not yet available but China already announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping will give a keynote speech at the official opening of the Forum on 28 March 2015.

Corridors

The Boao Forum is a good opportunity for Prime Minister Rutte to do business with several Chinese and other Asian leaders in a short period of time and to meet with bank directors and CEOs of major companies. These meetings will take place in the Corridors of the Forum: with government leaders in so-called ‘bilaterals’, scheduled short meetings; with others more casually during meals and forum sessions. As leaders of the major European countries, such as Merkel, Hollande and Cameron, will not attend the forum, relatively more time will be available for the Dutch prime minister. In addition, with his participation in the Boao Forum, Prime Minister Rutte will create goodwill in Beijing. As it is China’s ambition to make the Boao Forum as successful as Davos, the participation of a government leader, especially one from outside the Asian region, will be  appreciated by the Chinese host. A win-win situation, as they call it in China.

What can premier Rutte learn at the Boao Forum?

Initially the Boao Forum focused on economic issues but in recent years politics and security have been on the agenda too. The theme of this this year’s Forum is ‘Asia’s New Future: Towards a Common Destiny’. This title supports the overall message that China wants to convey to Asia, namely that China aims for a common future and is not seeking dominance in the Asian region. Apart from topics such as macroeconomic developments, industry trends and technological innovation, the program will include the subjects of religion, agriculture, law, and history. And in case Prime Minister Rutte needs a break, he could try to escape from the conference venue for an hour and take a swim in the South China Sea.

Western Europe should pay more attention to China’s Silk Road plans.

Part 1 of a series on the Chinese Silk Road.

For the original Dutch version see http://www.chinarelations.nl

Creating a new Silk Road, or as China calls it, “One Belt, One Road”, is one of China’s official priorities for 2015. The “Belt” is the Economic Belt of the Silk Road, a restoration of the ancient trade routes that connected China in the past with Europe and the Middle East; the “Road” refers to the “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century” that will connect China, via the Straits of Malacca, with South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. This year China plans to make great strides to realize its ideas. Last Sunday, 1 February 2015, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli gathered a group of policymakers to list the priorities of the Silk Road strategy: the construction of infrastructure, facilitation of investment and trade, financial cooperation, and cultural exchange between the countries on the Silk Road (s). In practical terms, this means that China will build many railways, including high-speed railway lines, roads, bridges, ports and Internet connections.

China has long invested in the construction of infrastructure on the Eurasian continent, but these projects are now brought together under the umbrella of the Silk Road initiative, which enables China to raise more funds and take a more strategic approach. That China is serious about the Silk Road initiative is also illustrated by last week’s announcement of the creation of a second fund that will contribute to the realization of the new Silk Road: the Energy Development Fund. The fund aims to raise 20 billion US dollars and will focus on energy infrastructure in countries along the Silk Road. The first fund was established in November 2014: the Silk Road Fund, to which China will contribute 40 billion US dollars.  Whether the intended capital will actually be raised and invested, however, remains to be seen (more on that in a future episode of this blog).

China thus has big plans for the new Silk Road but while Europe has a lot to gain or lose under these plans, Brussels seems to pay little attention. Chinese leaders stress that all the countries on the Silk Road will benefit from improved connectivity and that China does not seek regional dominance, but will rather contribute to regional and international peace. This does not stop Beijing, however, from ensuring that China itself will profit the most from its plans. The Silk Road initiative is part of a broad and well-thought-out strategy that can be viewed as an element of China’s response to the US “pivot to Asia”, as Zheng Wang writes in The Diplomat or, as Min Ye argues in Foreign Policy, as an answer to the US-led initiative for a Trans-Pacific the Partnership (TPP).  It seeks to give new impetus to China’s’ “go out” policies – the international expansion of Chinese companies – and to strengthen China’s international economic, political and cultural influence. The Chinese government has a strong interest in further integration into the world economy through intensified economic and trade relations with countries on the Eurasian continent, especially when these relations boost Western China’s less-developed provinces’ role as economic gateway from Eurasia to China. Furthermore, better connections and relationships with Eurasia contribute to more efficient and safer energy shipments to China. Last but not least, the construction of infrastructure in countries along the route will help Beijing to get rid of its excess foreign currency reserves and excess products, such as steel, and it will raise much needed financial support for Chinese State Owned Companies.

China’s Silk Road Plans in Europe

China’s Silk Road Plans with regard to Europe currently focus on a strengthening of ties with Central and Eastern Europe, the development of the Greek port of Piraeus as a major gateway to Europe for Chinese goods, and the expansion of direct railway links between China and Europe. In 2012, Beijing took the initiative to establish the ’16 + 1 ‘platform for cooperation with 16 Central and Eastern European countries. China offered investment, trade opportunities and a credit line of 10 billion euros and called for closer cooperation in the field of science and technology. Last December, at the third ’16 +1 ‘summit in Belgrade, China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced the creation of an investment fund for Central and Eastern Europe of 3 billion euro. This economic support is warmly welcomed in these 16 countries, many of which are economically dependent on Europe but believe to have little influence on policymaking in Brussels. EU policymakers follow these developments with suspicion. They are worried that the position of European institutions in Brussels will be undermined and that the cohesion within the EU will be negatively affected. At the same time, however, they disregard potential gains of Silk-Road cooperation with China for Europe as a whole. According to the 16 countries involved, the ’16+1′ platform does not cause any harm to cooperation within the European Union. They argue it just provides much needed economic support and political attention to Central and Eastern Europe.

China’s plans for the reinforcement of its connections with Greece are part of the Maritime Silk Road and focus on the extension of activities in and around the port of Piraeus. Thanks to the investments and presence of the Chinese shipping giant China Ocean Shipping Group Company (COSCO) in Piraeus from 2009 onwards, the Greek port has become one of the fastest growing ports in Europe. Chinese containers filled with Chinese products find their way into Europe through the port of Piraeus and regional railways. In order to improve the links between the port of Piraeus and the European inland China currently finances and builds various railway lines in Central and Eastern Europe. During the aforementioned “16 +1” summit in Belgrade last December, China announced that it will start in mid-2015 with the construction of a high speed railway line between Budapest and Belgrade, a section that forms an important part of the route Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Hungary-Western Europe. Over time, the growing importance of the port of Piraeus as a gateway to Europe for Chinese products may affect business in Western European ports that function as gateways to Europe, including the Dutch port of Rotterdam. China’s activities in Greece are not limited to the port of Piraeus. China also invests, for example, in Greek shipbuilding and airports, and it supports activities of Greek small and medium enterprises in China. Given the large economic benefits of cooperation with China, Beijing is confident that it will not be hit very hard by the policies of the new Greek government, such as the announcement of Greek Premier Tsipras that the privatization of Greek ports will be rolled back.

As a third element of the Silk Road strategy in Europe China is steadily expanding direct rail links between Chinese and European cities. Freight train lines in operation include those from China to Germany (Chongqing-Duisburg and Zhengzhou-Hamburg), the Netherlands (Lianyungang-Rotterdam), Spain (Yiwu-Madrid), Poland (Suzhou-Warsaw and Chengdu-Lodz) and the Czech Republic (Wuhan-Pardubice). The freight trains are currently bringing goods from China to Europe but not vice-versa, they return to China largely empty. An important reason for this is that transport of goods to China by rail is economically viable for only a limited number of products but Europe could do more to investigate how the European side can benefit from these existing connections.

China’s Silk Road Strategy is still in its infancy. There are many obstacles that need to be overcome before China will make a sound profit on all its investments. Whether or not Europe will gain from the Silk Road initiative largely depends on Europe itself. For a start, policymakers in Brussels and West-European capitals could carefully study the Chinese Silk Road plans, not only in order to avert any negative consequences, but, more importantly, to look for opportunities to participate in these plans and ensure that they will benefit Europe too.

Sources/recommended literature

-Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar, ‘China and the CEE Look for New Development Opportunities’, PISM Bulletin, No. 134 (729), 12 December 2014. http://www.pism.pl/files/?id_plik=18852

-Richard Turcsányi, ‘Central and Eastern Europe’s courtship with China: Trojan horse within the EU?’, (European Institute of Asian Studies, 2014). http://www.eias.org/sites/default/files/EU-Asia-at-a-glance-Richard-Turcsanyi-China-CEE.pdf

-Frans-Paul van der Putten, ‘Chinese Investment in the Port of Piraeus, Greece: The Relevance for the EU and the Netherlands’ (Clingendael, 2014). http://www.clingendael.nl/sites/default/files/2014%20-%20Chinese%20investment%20in%20Piraeus%20-%20Clingendael%20Report.pdf

-Dragan Pavlicevic, ‘China’s Railway Diplomacy in the Balkans’, China Brief, Vol. 14 Issue 20 (October 23, 2014).

China’s public diplomacy shifts focus: From building hardware to improving software

This article was first published at the China Policy Institute Blog of Nottingham University, to see the original click here.

October 24, 2013, by

China’s public diplomacy shifts focus: From building hardware to improving software

Written by Ingrid d’Hooghe.

China spends more money and effort on developing public diplomacy strategies and instruments than any other country in the world. The Chinese government has embraced the ideas of soft power and public diplomacy to an extent not often seen in China with regard to political concepts from abroad. It believes that public diplomacy, or wielding soft power, may help make China’s economic and political rise palatable to the world; contribute to the international recognition of Chinese values and policies; increase the government’s legitimacy; and that it is indispensable in the fight for China’s right to speak and to co-exist with the liberal international world order with its own political model.

As Chinese policy makers want to get public diplomacy right, they commission much public diplomacy research and encourage the domestic debate on the topic. Scholars extensively study and discuss other countries’ public diplomacy theories and practices, in particular those of the US. The Chinese government does not simply copy foreign public diplomacy policies, however. It critically examines Western approaches, rejects, selects and adapts Western ideas and strategies to the Chinese political and cultural context, and simultaneously develops its own concepts and approaches, resulting in ‘public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics’.

The call to further develop a distinct Chinese approach to public diplomacy, one that better suits China’s culture and the country’s political model, is also highlighted in a recent article in the People’s Daily by Cai Mingzhao, Director of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), and vice-director of the Chinese Communist Party’s External Publicity Office, two important players in China’s public diplomacy. The article is based on President Xi Jinping’s speech at the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference and provides various clues about where China’s public diplomacy is heading. The article first and foremost makes clear that the Chinese government will continue to strongly invest in expanding and improving its public diplomacy and media capacity. It also indicates that after investing for years in building the hardware, or instruments, for public diplomacy, China’s leaders will pay more attention to improving the software of public diplomacy: China’s messages and the use of public diplomacy instruments.

SCIO Director Cai points out that policy makers should pay more attention to the receiving side of public diplomacy and take a closer look at how Chinese messages are received by audiences abroad. After all, as Cai writes:

Whether or not China’s story can be told well, and whether or not China’s voice can be disseminated well, crucially requires us to look at whether or not audiences are willing to listen and able understand, whether or not they can form positive interaction with us, and engender even more resonance.

He calls upon policy makers to address political and cultural obstacles to the dissemination of the country’s messages and argues that, in stead of trying to fit China’s messages into foreign discourses, they need to develop and introduce their own Chinese discourse, with new formulations and concepts that better explain Chinese views and policies to the world. Language expresses a country’s culture and history, and many words and concepts cannot simply be translated into another language. Chinese and Western people indeed often mean different things when they use the same English words.

This process can be helped, in Cai’s view, by a strengthening of what China considers its primary instrument for public diplomacy: the Chinese media. In the past decade Chinese media organizations have ‘marched out’ and established an impressive presence all around the world. Disseminating more messages, however, does not mean that China’s voice is also better heard and the effectiveness of China’s costly media expansion is increasingly questioned in China. The Chinese government is aware that in many parts of the world their media products do not score well in terms of attractiveness and credibility and that in the global competition for people’s attention, they are no match for western or other country’s international media companies.

Cai, therefore, proposes a more strategic and innovative approach to media work involving the indigenization of media organs. This means Chinese media companies abroad will increasingly hire local staff members who are able to fine-tune messages to the local situation and who can develop the type of programs that local audiences like. Foreign local staff will furthermore add credibility to Chinese media products. This approach is quite successful in some parts of Africa, where the Chinese media stand out by providing a platform for African people to discuss their ideas and points of view. It is highly questionable, however, if this will also work in other parts of the world where credibility is a bigger issue, local media are well developed and people can choose from a wide variety of media channels. Cai’s other suggestions include expanding the role of subnational public diplomacy in China. In recent years the Chinese government has encouraged provincial and city governments, in particular those in the country’s Western border areas, to reach out to audiences in neighboring countries, with whom they are more familiar than the central government in Beijing and where ethnic minorities on both sides of the border often share language and customs, facilitating cultural exchanges. Local authorities in Yunnan, Guangxi and Xinjiang, gladly seized this opportunity to raise their profile, boost tourism and attract foreign investment and are now actively involved in promoting China via local-level cultural, media and educational cooperation projects in Southeast and Central Asia.

In his article, SCIO director Cai thus envisages a long-term socialization process in which China seeks to make foreign audiences familiar with Chinese history and culture, and as a result, more open-minded towards China’s ideas and messages. This is not a new idea, Chinese academics have long pointed out that the understanding of Chinese culture, ideas, and concepts is a prerequisite for acceptance of China’s policies by international publics [1] but Cai’s article suggests that China’s public diplomacy will increase its focus on creating acceptance of China’s political path.

Ingrid d’Hooghe is Senior Research Associate at The Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and  Research Affiliate at Antwerp University.


[1] See e.g. Dai Ying, Gouzao zhongguo guoji huayu tixi de tujing  [The Way to Construct a Chinese International Discourse System], Gonggong Waijiao Jikan , No. 10 (summer 2012)

CHINA-AFRICA RELATIONS WILL BENEFIT FROM SMALL-SCALE COOPERATION PROJECTS

CHINA-AFRICA RELATIONS WILL BENEFIT FROM SMALL-SCALE COOPERATION PROJECTS

The expansion of cultural, academic and educational exchanges with foreign countries is an important element of China’s public diplomacy strategy, including its strategy towards Africa. On several occasions Chinese and African leaders have emphasized the need for more people’s exchanges and the 2013 White Paper on China-Africa Cooperation Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015) includes various concrete plans to boost cooperation between non-governmental institutions on both sides. In recent years the number of platforms for people’s exchanges between China and Africa has rapidly increased. Examples are the China-Africa People’s Forum, jointly organized by the China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE), the African Union and several African NGOs, and the Africa Communication Research Center at the Communication University in Beijing.

The most recent initiative in this area is the launch, in late October 2013, of the Sino-African Think Tank 10 + 10 Partnership Plan. This plan links 10 Chinese think tanks to 10 African think tanks for long-term paired cooperation and exchanges. The website of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), one of the 10 participants on the African side and partner of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), provides more details. The plan has evolved out of the China-Africa Think Tank Forum (CATTF), which in its past meetings has brought together a lot of people but – according to the results of the 2012 meeting published at the website of David Shinn and comments by participants – failed to lead to focused discussions. The initiative fits in a broader trend to supplement large scale China-Africa talk-shops with small-scale and concrete cooperation projects. A similar project – mentioned in the Action Plan but yet to be launched – is the China-Africa Cultural Cooperation Partnership Program which aims to link 100 African cultural institutions with 100 Chinese partners.

This form of cooperation encourages Chinese and African people to really engage with each other and provides African participants with much-needed opportunities to make themselves and their ideas better heard in China.  The initiative will furthermore help both sides to identify concrete policy areas in which China and countries in Africa can work together and develop an agenda for joint research on topics that matter, such as those suggested by Deborah Brautigam or those studied by the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University, South-Africa.