TOM PLATE WRITES – I have been traveling to Asia and writing about it in various newspapers and journals for two decades, and I have visited China enough times to know it closely. My observation about China is substantially different from most of the written accounts I read or video-view back home in the United States through the media.
China can, should and must do a much better job of explaining itself and its views to the world. For China, “a great culture with inexhaustible wisdom”, global public opinion does matter. China’s prosperity, not to mention peace, depends on true mutual understanding and warranted global respect. A wider, clearer message to the world has to come from its heart and brain.
For that, China has to immediately start a determined step-by-step amplification program. It has to let a hundred programs bloom. Take for example TV shows in the US that focus on politics. Issues such as the South China Sea sometimes get their attention. Some American journalists are guests on such shows, discussing China and its intentions. Why not invite China’s best and most articulate journalists to participate in shows that reach an elite audience? Perhaps China could send its more articulate (and witty) diplomats to such shows?
China also needs to offer better visuals. Until 2008, they were dreadful. Then came the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the Bird’s Nest (or National Stadium), and the West was wowed. But in the absence of more visuals that showcase modern China, the Western media will default to the same dreary Cold-War images of the old China.
“We are living in a time when misunderstandings about China show no sign of abating,” said Sameh El-Shahat, president of China-i, a Beijing brand strategist. “China is the subject of too much negativity.” I also concur with Zhang Jinsheng, deputy head of Jinan University’s journalism and communications school, who has proposed that Chinese news outlets use their international influence to amplify the country’s voice on important issues.
The truth is that journalists across the world, from whatever country and political system, share an unspoken bond. They struggle with the enormous burden of trying to explain complex politics and economics to a large audience in a clear and understandable way. It is not an easy profession.
China has bred some outstanding journalists and has been trying hard to improve the quality of journalism. More of such journalists – and their work – should be shown to the world. That, alone, would help improve up China’s image.
Finally, the most effective Asian leaders will always insist on mounting an aggressive foreign outreach policy. Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew spent long hours with Western journalists who he thought would actually listen. Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would occasionally kick an annoying Western journalist out of his office, but he also opened his office doors to them in an unprecedented way. You cannot get your message across if you don’t talk it up. Two astute prime ministers of Japan with whom I was favored with interviews would berate their media staff for a lack of imagination in their foreign outreach efforts.
China these days is such an important country that how it is perceived around the world is vital not only to it but also to all of us. Misperceptions can marinate into dysfunctional distrust and poisonous assumptions. The value of China and the US moving forward side-by-side (instead of submarine-by-submarine) is enormous. At the moment the two sides are far from having the relationship set at an optimal level. This has to be improved, and Chinese journalists can help do that.
The author is distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Reprinted courtesy of China Daily, CN and USA 03/07/2016.