The nature of contemporary international relations has changed significantly after the end of the Cold War. The globalised political arena allowed the addition and formalisation of new communication methods through which international interaction, or more specifically diplomacy relations, could take place. As an instrument of foreign policy, public diplomacy not only presents a new approach to and method of communication in international relations, but also broadens the receiving audience in that it involves the relations between foreign representatives and foreign publics. As the central theme of this study, public diplomacy is utilised in a conceptual-theoretical context to analyse and understand how states forward information to a broader public and how that information is received and used. The theoretical relevance of this study stems from the fact that public diplomacy is a contemporary instrument of foreign policy and mode of diplomacy. The process of public diplomacy has become more formalised and institutionalised after the Cold War and in the past two decades, public diplomacy has garnered more interest and gained international importance. Furthermore, public diplomacy has evolved to allow inclusivity in reaching the ‘hearts and minds’ of foreign publics.
The practical relevance of this study analyses the development, scope and utilisation of public diplomacy in the People’s Republic of China, both at regional and international level, between 1997 and 2007. In line with the theoretical and practical relevance a duality of meaning and utility arises: Firstly, in an exploratory-descriptive context, what is the meaning, nature, and scope of public diplomacy and to what extent (or not) does China’s public diplomacy correspond with this predominantly Western-centric construct? And secondly, does China’s public diplomacy in pursuit of its foreign policy goals, differ at regional and international levels (or not)?
The exploratory-descriptive indicates that China’s public diplomacy deviates from conventional ‘Western’ public diplomacy, as its main drive is based on its economic success, which is normally a ‘hard’ power instrument. In conjunction with this, China’s public diplomacy is underlined with its historic legacy, Chinese culture and language (promoted by Confucius Institutes), China’s peaceful rise and development, ‘good neighbourliness’ and ‘win-win’ relations. This finding validates the initial assumption in response to this question that although public diplomacy has generic features, these were tempered and modified, albeit to a degree and not in essence, by the national traits, aims and objectives, context and public diplomacy practices of China. The descriptive-analytical analysis indicates that China’s public diplomacy vis-à-vis its regional and international counterparts does not differ. China’s public diplomacy is very generic in achieving its foreign and economic policies. This finding contradicts the initial assumption in response to the question that China’s use of public diplomacy in pursuit of its foreign policy goals differs on the regional and international levels.
By using an economic and historically-based public diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, China invites the world to understand it better, based on a self-projected public image. Irrespective of how China constructs, give meaning to and uses public diplomacy in future, it has already succeeded projecting an image of prosperity to the rest of the world. Many developing countries are looking East to China and in this respect, although no structured enticement is required, China’s public diplomacy can be utilised to a greater extent to enhance its international image and standing. What China has accomplished during the period from 1997 to 2007 is exemplary and the prospects of improving it and enhancing its image at regional and international levels are favourable.