This article was first published in today’s People’s Daily. Cai Mingzhao, director of the Foreign Propaganda Office (or State Council Information Office) discusses the future priorities in public diplomacy work in the light of Xi Jinping’s recent speech at the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference. Interestingly, it mentions soft power only once. Rather, the tone of the article is – in a welcome development – much more moderate than other documents that have come out of Beijing. The core of the argument is that China must develop its own conceptual vocabulary to be able to better set the terms of the international debate, rather than being forced to discuss itself in a discourse that is not its own. Also, there is an increased emphasis on engagement with foreign audiences, their thoughts, habits and concerns. In particular, Cai flags up the idea of indigenization of Chinese media enterprises operating abroad, a model that has been developed to a substantial degree with CCTV Africa, as indicated in this article co-written by my colleague Iginio Gagliardone. Perhaps a shift away from the old, “sit up and listen” model of public diplomacy?
Tell China’s Story Well, Spread China’s Voice Well
– Deeply study and implement the spirit of Comrade Xi Jinping’s important speech at the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference
At the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference, Comrade Xi Jinping pointed out that we must meticulously do foreign propaganda work well, innovate foreign propaganda methods, strive to forge new concepts, new categories and new formulations the circulate in China and abroad, tell China’s story well and spread China’s voice well. Comrade Xi Jinping’s important discussion of foreign propaganda work implies a series of new thoughts, new viewpoints and new requirements, and has an extremely important significance for our further grasping the direction, objectives, important asks and basic guidelines for foreign propaganda, and to do foreign propaganda work well with a spirit of innovation under new circumstances. We must absolutely make studying and implementing of the spirit of Comrade Xi Jinping’s important speech into a major political task, unite thoughts and actions around the spirit of the Centre, and realistically take on the important duty of telling China’s story and spreading China’s voice.
Deepening foreign propaganda about the Chinese Dream, tell China’s story with the Chinese Dream in the lead
Realizing the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is the most magnificent and brilliant story of present-day China. At present, 1.3 billion Chinese people are inspired by the Chinese Dream, and are pursuing and realizing dreams through their own industry and labour. How Chinese people thing and act, in which direction China will develop or what the future will look like, are all reflected in the Chinese people’s story of pursuing and realizing dreams. To tell China’s story well, we must deepen foreign propaganda of the Chinese Dream, and completely, accurately and vividly tell the Chinese Dream well, according to the requirements of Comrade Xi Jinping’s speech at the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference. The first revolves around the fact that the Chinese Dream is the essence of the dreams for national wealth and power, rejuvenation of the nation and the happiness of the people, making clear that the Chinese Dream reflects a close relationship between history, the present and the future, and is a plain dream and beautiful aspiration that the Chinese people seek diligently, that it has clear Chinese characteristics, the style of the nation and a cultural content. The second revolves around the fact that the essential property of the Chinese Dream is that it is the people’s dream, making clear that the Chinese Dream reflects the organic integration of the dreams of the country, the dreams of the nation and the dreams of the individual, that it must rely on the people for its realization, and brings incessant happiness to the people. The third is revolving around the reality that China still is the largest developing country in the world, making clear that China’s development faces quite a few difficulties and challenges, and that arduous efforts must be made to realize the Chinese Dream. The fourth revolves around persisting in the policy of marching a peaceful development path, making clear that the Chinese Dream is an open, inclusive, cooperative and win-win dream, that it is closely linked with the dreams of all countries, and that realizing the Chinese Dream not only benefits the Chinese people, but also benefits the people of the world.
To tell China’s story well, we must elucidate Chinese characteristics well. We must make clear the difference in historical traditions, accumulated culture and basic national countries between all countries and nations, and that their development paths have their own characteristics. We must make clear that the development process of the civilization of the Chinese nation over five thousand years has created a wide-ranging and profound Chinese culture, that China’s culture accumulates the most profound spiritual pursuits of the Chinese nation and contains the most fundamental spiritual genes of the Chinese nation, and represents the unique spiritual symbols of the Chinese nations. We must make clear that China’s excellent traditional culture is the prominent superiority of the Chinese nation, and is an important spiritual support for the Chinese nature’s continuous self-renewal, unity and advance, and is our most profound cultural soft power. We must make clear that Socialism with Chinese characteristics is rooted in the soil of Chinese culture, reflects the desires of the Chinese people and is suited to the demands for development and progress of China and the times. We must make clear that our unique cultural traditions, unique historical destiny and unique basic national conditions have decided that China inevitably must march a development path suited to its own characteristics.
To tell China’s story well, we must present China’s real situation and future direction well. Following China’s rapid development, international society pays increasing attention to the question of “where China comes from, and where it will go”, to tell China’s story well, we must answer this question, dispel doubts and confusion, and ensure that the international society completely, objectively and rationally treats and understands China. We must make clear China’s development progress, present the huge gains that have been achieved in China’s economic and social development since reform and opening up as well as the profound changes that have taken place in the spiritual attitude of the Chinese people, deeply elucidate the path, orbit and factors of China’s development progress, use facts to indicate the propriety and rationality of China’s political system, economic policy and arrangements for the people’s livelihoods. We must make clear the challenges that China’s development faces and our measures to vanquish those challenges, use facts to explain that doing modernization construction in a large developing country with 1.3 billion people like China, brings many difficulties and complex contradictions in a way that is unprecedented and never seen in the world, China has the confidence and the ability to overcome the difficulties and contradictions in its development process, maintain sustained and healthy economic development and promote social progress. We must make clear the future development direction of China, discuss that China will persist in putting economic construction at the centre, continue to move reform and opening up forward, and strive to realize the “Two Centuries” struggle objective, explain that China will persist in peaceful development, open development and common development, develop itself through striving for a peaceful international development, and will use its own development to safeguard and stimulate global peace. Through these discussions, international society’s understanding of China will be enhanced, international society’s expectations of Chinese development will be stabilized, and misgivings or misjudgements will be reduced.
Strengthen the construction of international dissemination capacity to spread China’s voice well
To disseminate China’s voice well, we must strengthen the construction of international dissemination capacity
To strengthen the construction of international dissemination capacity, we must forge first-rate international media. Media are the principle force of international dissemination and expanding the strength of media is the basic link in raising international dissemination capacity. China is a large media country, but it is not a strong media country, it lacks first-rate media that have a relatively large influence internationally. To change this sort of situation of being large but not strong, we need to conduct resource integration, and change quantitative superiorities into qualitative superiorities. At present, the media sector is digitizing and becoming networked, this is a good opportunity to realize a leapfrogging-style upgrade of dissemination capacity. We must persist in the simultaneous development of traditional media and new media, accelerate the integrated development of traditional media and new media, fully utilize new technologies and new applications, innovate media dissemination methods, and gain the initiative in a new round of dissemination capacity competition. We must persist in equally stressing software and hardware, and put software development in a more prominent position, strive to gain new breakthroughs in optimizing network adoption, enriching information content, perfecting business systems, improving dissemination technology, fostering talents and other such areas, foster a batch of excellent columns and programmes that have international celebrity, incessantly raise the original creation levels, first broadcasting levels and landing rates of news and information. We must pay attention to the events that take place in the world, objectively, comprehensively and truthfully report these events well, merge Chinese value concepts into media reporting, provide a Chinese angle to observe international society and international affairs to the outside world, and guide them to correctly understand China’s positions and standpoints concerning relevant issues.
To strengthen the construction of international dissemination capacity, we must innovate “marching out” methods. In the complex and intense international information competition, Chinese media want to gain the initiative and capture decisive occasions, and so it is necessary to accelerate the pace of “marching out”, and vigorously enter the international communication system. Practice demonstrates that moving overseas media indigenization forward is an effective channel for strengthening the construction of international dissemination strength. First, move topic planning, production, marketing, distribution and other such segments into target countries and regions, progressively realize the indigenization of organs, the indigenization of personnel and the indigenization of content, orient dissemination products and dissemination targets even more precisely, provide products and services that conform to the demands of foreign audiences, and shape “indigenized” expressions of the Chinese voice. We must guide and support domestic media to determine the focus countries and regions for “marching out” well, plan concrete rules and concrete programmes well, and broadly launch cooperation with all sorts of foreign media in areas such as exchanging contributions, producing programmes, journalists’ exchange visits, technological support, new media application, etc.
To strengthen the construction of international dissemination capacity, we must have the joint participation of the entire society. International dissemination capacity is a systematic project and requires strengthening top-level design, optimizing resource allocation, integrating forces form all sides, and shaping the larger structure to do international dissemination well jointly. We must expand policy support strength, stimulate the vitality of market mechanisms, foster a batch of cultural enterprises having international competitiveness, and guide them to integrate enterprise business activities with displaying the country’s image. We must support a batch of think tanks and non-governmental organization with an international orientation, encourage and support them in launching international exchange and cooperation, send out China’s voice at even more international occasions, and have an even bigger effect in international dissemination. Local foreign propaganda is an important component part of international dissemination, and special attention must be paid to giving rein to the superiority of border provinces and regions, integrate and comprehensively plan national-level international dissemination capacity construction and border regions’ foreign propaganda work, use relevant local work mechanisms and branding programmes well, and shape integrated effects.
Strengthen discourse system construction, strive to forge new concepts, new categories and new formulations that circulate in China and abroad
To tell China’s story well, and spread China’s voice well, foreign discourse system construction is extremely important. 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. Comrade Xi Jinping pointed out that we must strive to forge new concepts, new categories and new formulations that circulate in China and abroad. This has pointed out a clear direction for us to strengthen foreign discourse system construction.
To forge new concepts, new categories and new formulations that circulate in China and abroad, we must strive to grasp the key of circulation in China and abroad well. Circulation in china and abroad means that the concepts, categories and formulations that we disseminate must conform to China’s national circumstances and have clear Chinese characteristics; and must also link up with foreign customary discourse structures and forms of expression, so it is easy for international society to understand and accept them. Forging such concepts, categories and formulations is a major innovation in our country’s foreign dissemination work, it benefits the spreading of China’s voice, benefits better communication and exchange between China and the world, and benefits international society’s objective and rational understanding of China. To this end, we must one the one hand persist in and carry forward Chinese culture, this spiritual pursuit, spiritual genome and spiritual symbol of the Chinese nation, fully reflect our own value concepts, real situation, positions and standpoints in foreign dissemination with the Chinese core value system as support; on the other hand, we must, with an open and inclusive attitude of “appreciating the beauty of others, and working together to create beauty”, vigorously reflect China’s understanding, consideration and shouldering of the common fate of humanity and of global affairs, respect more common discourse points and common interests between China and the outside world, and stick closer to foreign audiences’ thinking habits and language habits. At the same time, we must liberate thoughts, broaden visions, let the sea accept a hundred rivers, be tolerant and open-minded, vigorously study and learn from foreign beneficial civilizational achievements, and incessantly enrich our concepts, categories and formulations, to ensure that the Chinese and foreign discourse systems interact and communicate better.
To forge new concepts, categories and formulations that circulate in China and abroad, we must expend great efforts on the word “new”. Revolving around new circumstances and new changes enables us to adapt concepts, categories and formulations for foreign dissemination to even better adapt to the developments and changes in domestic and foreign circumstances, and serve the larger work picture of the Party and the country even better. First, there is introducing, elucidating and disseminating the new concepts, new achievements and new experiences of the new Central leading collective in governing the country well, make them into the focus point of constructing the foreign discourse system, and form integrated and accurate expression and elucidation methods. We must especially elucidate well the near measures for the Chinese Dream, reform and opening up, the new ways of thinking in economic reform, and the new ideas for foreign exchange. Second, there is putting forward new concepts and new formulations aimed at a number of major China-related issues that the outside world pays attention to, and correctly reflecting the development progress of China in these areas. Our country’s democracy, human rights, news management, ethnic, religious, judicial structural and other such problems have received attention from the outside world for a long time, and there is no lack of misunderstandings and prejudice. We must, on the basis of our country’s reality, summarize and put forward new concepts and new formulations, explain our national circumstances well, elucidate our standpoints well, present our progress well, and guide the international world to objectively and fairly understand and treat these issues. Third, there is revolving around major issues of common concern to international society, putting forward China’s viewpoint and China’s position. At present, climate change, financial security, global governance, network security and other such topics are increasingly becoming the common concern of all countries in the world, to resolve these problems well, it is necessary that the international society exerts great efforts together. China is a responsible country, and must put forward its standpoint and indicate its positions on these issues, broadly launch dialogue and cooperation with the international world, and make great contributions to promoting the resolution of these problems.
To forge new concepts, new categories and new formulations that circulate in China and abroad, we must have scientific support and theoretical breakthroughs. We must promote foreign communication workers and philosophy and social science workers to deeply research major theoretical and real issues, deeply research the attention that international society pays to China, deeply research the communication and exchange methods between different cultures, strive for some breakthroughs in a number major issues in the construction of the foreign discourse system, and build a discourse system that has Chinese characteristics and a Chinese air, and is able to launch effective dialogue with international society as well.
At present, China is even more closely linked together with the world, the world needs to understand China better, and China also needs to understand the world better. We must deeply implement the spirit of Comrade Xi Jinping’s important speech, be diligent and pragmatic, pioneering and innovative, we must shape a work structure in which the entire society jointly narrates China’s story and jointly spreads China’s voice, enhance mutual understanding and comprehension between China and the world, and provide a good international public opinion environment for the comprehensive construction of a moderately prosperous society and realizing the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
(The author is a Vice-Director of the Central Propaganda Department and the Director of the Central Foreign Propaganda Office [also known as the State Council Information Office])