China has been using a new approach to public diplomacy to expand its influence and global appeal
It's an approach at which the United States once excelled but now does badly. Call it "soft power." This term was coined over a decade ago by Harvard professor Joseph Nye to describe a country's ability to lead by example and get others to follow because they admire what you are. The Chinese have expanded people-to-people diplomacy, set up their own Peace Corps, and trained diplomats to speak local languages and appear on local TV shows.
China took advantage of the decline of America's soft power even before the Iraq war. That decline began in Asia when U.S. officials were perceived as indifferent to the suffering caused by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. Our soft power eroded further when we eviscerated the United States Information Service and its cultural centers during the 1990s. Then came Iraq. President George W. Bush touts the need for public diplomacy. But his appointment of Karen Hughes as public diplomacy czar has been a failure, as evidenced by poll after depressing poll.
What's so disturbing about "Charm Offensive" is the larger problem it illuminates. America is no longer taking advantage of its greatest strength: leading the community of democracies by example. Our diplomacy, as Kurlantzick notes, is preoccupied with Iraq and the "war against terrorism" to the exclusion of other countries' concerns. Read more.
Beijing has created a Chinese version of the Peace Corps to send idealistic young Chinese on long-term volunteer service projects to developing nations like Laos and Burma
In the past decade, China has upgraded its public diplomacy, which has focused on selling the idea that China will not be a threat to other nations. China’s public diplomacy efforts reinforce the concept of peaceful development. They include museum exhibits in Malaysia and Singapore to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the voyages of Zheng He, a Chinese admiral who sailed across Asia, encountering but never conquering other nations.
Part of this new public diplomacy has been increasing cultural exchanges with Southeast Asia. China has begun hosting overseas scholars, the kind of programming the US State Department has long done.
Beijing also has created a Chinese version of the Peace Corps, run by the China Association of Youth Volunteers, to send idealistic young Chinese on long-term volunteer service projects to developing nations like Laos and Burma. Read more.
Young Chinese idealists vie to join their 'Peace Corps' in Africa
Across the border from South Sudan, in the small Ethiopian village of Asossa, Sun Yingtao, a young agriculture student from Hebei Province in China, is teaching subsistence farmers – many of them refugees from war-torn Sudan – techniques for getting good yields out of their meager lands.
Seconded to the Ethiopian Department of Rural Development, Mr. Sun spends his days trying to identify various vegetable diseases, discussing possible alternative water usage, and debating the pros and cons of sowing onions and peppers in rows or in a scattered fashion.
Sun, who has been here for six months, is a civilian volunteer – one of a group of 50 young men and women who have been sent by the Chinese government as part of a new, experimental "peace corps" project in the country. This is the program's second year, and there are small volunteer groups in three locations: Ethiopia, the Seychelles, and Zimbabwe – three countries of limited economic importance for China.
Tens of thousands of young Chinese went through a rigorous three-month application process last year to compete for a spot on the volunteer team, says Liu Wei, another volunteer in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. And, though small now, the program is expected to expand.
Last November, at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, President Hu Jintao said China would send 300 young volunteers to Africa by 2009 to do jobs ranging from teaching Chinese to introducing poultry technologies to introducing traditional Chinese medicinal treatments in local hospitals. Read more.
Caption: Sun Yingtao, A Chinese volunteer in rural Ethiopia, helps local farmers use techniques to get better yields for their crops. Photo: Danna Harman
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