David Shambaugh argues in his recent book “China Goes Global: The Partial Power” that China is absolutely not a cultural power and not yet a diplomatic power in the world today. His assertion may sound that he underestimate China’s power since many view China as the “rising power” or “to-be super power” of 21st Century. However, I personally agree with his argument that China is still a partial power in the world today, and missing piece of China’s power is greatly due to its not yet successful public diplomacy. Yes, the Chinese government has poured large amount of money into public diplomacy. However, I am suspicious of the effect of such investment.
One public diplomacy program I want to talk about today is the promotion video of China that was played in New York’s Times Square. This 60 seconds video was shown in six big screens on the center of New York’s Times Square in order to promote China as a “beautiful country with many faces.” The idea behind is to show various faces of Chinese people—the famous and the ordinary—to give Western audience a more direct visualization of mysterious “China”. This video was played in the center of Times Square and the use of six big screens can certainly tell us this is not a small amount of advertisement fee for the Chinese government. Despite the big investment in this program, the promotion video lacks a focus or a clear central motif which makes it another “nice but not very helpful” branding for China. Though it does show many different faces of Chinese people, the message of this video is unclear. Furthermore, the abstract and seemingly classy showcase of China as “beauty” only reinforce the idea that China is a distant oriental nation. No ground breaking. And no agenda can be really achieved, so as many other public diplomacy programs implemented by the Chinese government so far. China is still a somehow distant concept for many people in the other half of the earth. As David Shambaugh argues in his book that the most intuitive way to know China’s cultural power is that ask ourselves or our friends that how many Chinese songs or Chinese movies that they can name. The answer for many Americans will be “none.” It is a clear sign of failure of public and cultural diplomacy since China is a country to be remembered for its GDP or population, and anything else are largely abstract and distant for non-Chinese people.