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Presentation by Chinese Ambassador to Liberia H.E. Ren Yisheng at the Aspiring Diplomats Intellect Enrichment Forum on International State Branding and Soft Power Diplomacy
2023-01-10 01:02

(6 January 2023)

Ambassador Ali Sylla, Head of Mission, Embassy of Liberia in Qatar,

Mr. Flomo Mao Maiwo, Founder and Coordinator of Diplomatic Development Initiative(DipDev Init.),

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. At the outset, I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year. I want to thank the Diplomatic Development Initiative for inviting me back and share with you some views and practices on the issue of "International State Branding and Soft Power Diplomacy". I have four points to make, namely international state branding, soft power diplomacy, case study on China’s public diplomacy, and some reflections on Liberia’s state branding and soft power diplomacy.

First, on international state branding

The shaping and dissemination of the international state image is an important part of the national development strategy. A good national image is the core component of the country's soft power and the driving force to enhance the country's international competitiveness. A good international state image means higher credibility, greater acceptability and wider space for international cooperation and development.

The international image of a country usually includes: investment environment, cultural tradition, citizen cultivation, product quality, etc. For a State, the establishment and improvement of its international image generally need to follow the following steps:

One, positioning of national image

Image positioning is the first step in shaping a country's image. It mainly addresses two issues: the vision of national development and the mental outlook of the country in which it will appear on the global or regional stage.

Two, improve the country's basic condition and objective outlook

International state image is formed on the basis of its own inherent "shape and appearance". The premise and basis for shaping a good international state image is to improve the basic conditions and objective appearance of the country, including improving the level of economic development, improving people's social well-being, protecting the ecological environment, etc.

Three, make multi-dimensional collaborative shaping

A. International state image logos: they should reflect the core values of the country through the most concise words, patterns and core slogans. (e.g. national flags, national anthems, national emblems)

B. Introduction to national conditions: the way to introduce a country’s national conditions to overseas people directly reflects the international image of the country. The national situation introduction published on the official website should include all kinds of basic information, increase the theme reflecting the contemporary society and culture of the country, plan more topics of interest to foreign audiences, and pay attention to the way of information expression in line with international norms.

C. Government image: The government image is an important part of the state image, especially in the process of major public crises and large-scale international activities, the performance and actions of the government directly affect people's views on the government. State leaders, especially the heads of state (e.g. President Mandela and the first female president of Africa Madame Sirleaf), government spokesmen and staff of embassies and consulates abroad are also important spokesmen of the state image.

D. Enterprises image: The image of a country's important enterprises and their products will also affect the country's national image, which specifically includes the efficiency, credibility, commitment, service, product quality, employee image, professional ethics, social responsibility and public opinion of the enterprise.

E. City image: A city is one of the important components of a country. It is also an important means to build a state image by building a good reputation for the city image. The city image includes the city appearance and investment environment, beautifying the city appearance to attract more international tourists, optimizing the investment environment to attract more international investors. At the same time, through their oral communication, the city will be helped to enhance its international popularity, so as to further improve its national image.

F. Historical and cultural image: historical and cultural heritage is also one of the basic elements and main symbols of the national image. It’s important to recognize the value of historical heritages(e.g. the Great Wall of China, the Centennial Pavilion of Liberia), and through protection and inheritance, transform the rich historical and cultural heritage resources into state influence and soft power.

G. Population’s cultivation: high-quality citizens are a powerful driving force for national development, and the quality of a country's image fundamentally depends on its population’s cultivation.

Second, on soft power diplomacy

One, on soft power

Soft power was first explicitly proposed by the American scholar Joseph Nye in the late 1980s. Hard power refers to the dominant power, which includes a country's economic, military, and scientific and technological strength. Generally speaking, hard power refers to the material power that is visible. Soft power is the ability to achieve goals by means of attraction rather than coercion or inducement. Later, other scholars have supplemented and improved the concept of soft power, believing that it should not only refer to institutional power and cultural power, but also include international recognition, discourse practice and diplomatic art. When a country's policies are considered reasonable by the outside world, its soft power will also increase accordingly. A country's culture, concept, development model, international institutions (a country's behavior and interaction in the international community), international state image and other aspects together constitute the core elements of soft power.

Hard power and soft power are not two concepts that exist in isolation. They are closely interrelated, interact and strengthen each other. Soft power has a certain degree of independence and dependence. It must be based on hard power and often plays a role with the- help of hard power, but it can also play a direct and independent role in promoting or hindering hard power. Therefore, soft power and hard power should be built together, and neither should be neglected.

Today, compared with hard power, soft power has become more and more important over a country’s international status with the progress of world political civilization and international political culture, which is due to the increasingly strong social nature of international politics.

For smaller countries, soft power is also very important. Although the hard power of a smaller country may not be significant, its soft power can be strong.

Two, how to conduct soft power diplomacy?

After completing the process of state image building, we should use multi-media dissemination methods and carry out diversified dissemination activities to transmit message to the target audience at different levels.

A. Traditional media dissemination: that is, through books, newspapers, TV ads and other traditional ways to promote the international state image.

B. Social media dissemination: including the Internet, posts, photos, short videos and other forms, as well as the construction of national image websites. Compared with traditional media, social media dissemination has greater advantages such as vivid content, rapid communication and multi-polarized audiences.

C. International sports events and other mega events marketing: The holding of international sports events and other important international events is always the center of worldwide media coverage and the focus of public attention. We should seize the precious opportunity to influence world public opinion and actively shape state image(e.g. World Cup held in Qatar. Beijing Summer and Winter Olympics)

D. Word of mouth marketing: It is a form of face-to-face communication between people. It not only allows information to spread spontaneously and actively to the outside world, but also makes people believe and accept it more easily.

E. Public diplomacy: Public diplomacy refers to a diplomatic way in which a government understands, learns about and influences the foreign public through cultural exchanges, information projects and other forms. The purpose of public diplomacy is to enhance the image of the country and her international influence, improve the attitude of foreign public towards the country, strengthen understanding and mutual trust, avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation, and create an international environment conducive to the country, affect foreign governments' policies towards the country, and thus maximize national interests. Public diplomacy is ubiquitous in international exchanges. Its subject can be either an official institution or a non-governmental organization or an influential public figure.

Third, the Four Matters of Confidence—an expression of national soft power with Chinese characteristics

With a 5,000 year long history and splendid culture, China is the world's largest developing country, the world's second largest economy, and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Chinese culture such as the Four Great Inventions (papermaking, compass, movable type printing, gunpowder), its language, writing, calligraphy, cuisine, traditional Chinese medicine, tea, silk, kungfu, etc. have greatly impacted the world. These together with China's Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, pandas, etc. form China's shinning name-cards and images.

In Chinese traditional culture, there are also ideas similar to the concept of soft power. For example, Confucius once suggested to "win people by virtue", and Sun Tzu, a great strategist, once proposed to "subdue the enemy without fighting", both emphasizing the use of a soft but attractive and persuasive force to achieve their goals.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has successfully carried out a series of public diplomacy that reflected soft power. For example, in 1971 before the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, the table tennis teams of the two countries exchanged visits to “push rolling the bigger globe with a small table-tennis ball”. China presents pandas to foreign countries as state gifts or leases them for scientific research. Pandas have become a strong bond between the peoples of China and the recipient or lessee countries. In recent years, Confucius Institutes set up around the world have provided convenience for more foreigners to understand and learn Chinese culture such as the language, calligraphy, kungfu, cuisine, without going abroad.

In recent years, China's high-tech, e-commerce, expressways, high-speed railways, airports, ports, metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai, new rural construction, the "Belt and Road" initiative, and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation(FOCAC), etc. represent both China's development achievements, that is hard power, and China's soft power to impact the world.

As a major oriental country with its own distinctive characteristics amid the deep globalization of the world, the Communist Party of China(CPC) and the Chinese government also have their own thoughts and expressions on national image building and soft power diplomacy, which are "The Four Matters of Confidence".

The Four Matters of Confidence refers to the confidence in the path, theory, system and culture, which was proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2016 and reiterated in the report of the 20th National Conference of the CPC in October 2022.

It is under the guidance of the "Four Confidence" that Chinese officials, scholars, media and even individuals have sufficient confidence to showcase our style, share our experience and win more recognition in front of the world people.

In recent years, China has continuously increased its efforts in public diplomacy. We used to follow a low-key style of doing more and saying less, but now we have come to realize that we should say or tell as much as we do. Because if you don't say, others don't necessarily know, let alone that some people in the world use disinformation or fake news to intentionally mislead the public or even smear China such as on issues related with Xinjiang and Hong Kong. China Media Group has set up a lot of overseas TV and radio stations. We have established the "China Public Diplomacy Association" and the "China Public Relations Association", both of which are composed of former government officials, former diplomats, experts and scholars and entrepreneurs, etc. Many Chinese colleges and universities have set up public diplomacy centers or courses. The Chinese-funded enterprises and overseas citizens are also advised to be conscious of fulfilling their social responsibilities and carrying out public diplomacy.

With the rapid development of China's hard power and our public diplomacy efforts, China's international influence or soft power is also rising. In many countries, eating Chinese food, learning Chinese and practicing Chinese kungfu have become fashionable. Many countries have designated the Chinese New Year as an official holiday and included Chinese in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools.

Fourth, some thoughts on Liberia's international state branding and her soft power diplomacy

Liberia is one of the first republics on the African continent. The country has superior natural conditions, rich mineral resources, and huge development potential in agriculture, forestry, fishery and tourism, etc. Before the civil conflict broke out in 1989, Liberia was an important rice producing country in West Africa and a favorite destination for education, medical care and tourism in the subregion. After the conflict, Liberia has been committed to maintaining peace and stability and trying to restore its pre-conflict position in the subregion. At the same time, Liberia faces such challenges as severely damaged infrastructure, inadequate exploration of development potential, insufficient public services, and lagging education and training of young people.

Therefore, the primary task for Liberia to enhance its international state image is to maintain long-term peace and stability and achieve national reconciliation and unity. This is an important prerequisite and guarantee for achieving prosperity and development and enhancing the country's international image. Secondly, accelerate the construction and improvement of infrastructure, especially roads, electricity and telecommunications, vigorously develop agriculture to realize self-sufficiency of staple food, and actively develop education, vocational training, health care and tourism. Third, attach importance to the publicity of the country's international image and public diplomacy, cultivate public diplomacy talents, and carry out relevant international cooperation.

Every citizen is a unique name-card of the country. All of you present here are both common individuals as well as representatives of Liberia. If your words and deeds can contribute to shaping Liberia's favorable state image, then you have also contributed to enhancing the country's soft power.

Later, if you become senior officials or leaders of private institutions, such as a minister or director in the government, a CEO of an enterprise, or a chairman of a NGO, you should attach importance to building up the awareness of the institution images and public relations while ensuring excellent performance of the work or business.

If some of you become leaders of this country, you may think about this issue at an even higher level. First of all, you should make your country achieve tangible construction and development results and strive to improve the people’s well-being, which is the basis of everything. Then, you should make clear research and planning on international state branding and soft power diplomacy, be good at exploring the value of Liberia's unique culture, and promote it to the world in a more magnetizing approach.

We believe that, with the concerted efforts of the government and the society as a whole, the hard and soft power of Liberia will be gradually enhanced. The Chinese side including our embassy near Monrovia is ready to carry out exchanges and cooperation with Liberia in this regard.

Finally, I sincerely wish that the cause of the brotherly friendship and win-win cooperation between China and Liberia will reach a higher level in the new year.

Thank you.

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