Monday, February 7, 2011

Battle Hymn of Tiger...Diplomacy?

In continuation of our conversation on Chinese public diplomacy efforts, there is another recent example I think is worth mentioning. It's one I'm sure most of our net savvy class has probably already seen, but brings some interesting public diplomacy concerns. On January 23 CCTV (China's state broadcaster) showed a clip of a Chinese air force training drill, in which a Chinese fighter plane destroys an enemy plane with a missile. Unfortunately for China, internet viewers realized the footage looked suspiciously familiar and accused the government of misappropriating footage from that 80's classic Top Gun.

You can see it broken down in this video from the Wall Street Journal:

The author of the accompanying article, Josh Chin, writes that China has, ironically, been trying to clamp down on journalists who doctor their stories.

While it seems as though this story was meant to boost Chinese national pride in its military capabilities (although I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered them if the rest of the world saw the "might" of the Chinese air force), it became something of a public diplomacy scandal. As we discussed in class, trust is an important factor in gaining social power and an end of creating social power in and of itself. Plagiarizing a (very) well-known American movie, only hurts China's credibility in the international arena. It first reinforces the belief that China cannot be trusted to comply with intellectual property laws and that countries and companies should be wary of allowing China access to and IP material. It could also cause other countries to doubt any information that comes from the Chinese government (although many of them may already do this). If they are fabricating this type of story, what else are they lying about?

Another public diplomacy issue China dealt with recently was its refusal to allow jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobao, or any of his relatives, to attend the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize, which the committee awarded to Liu late last year. Liu was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony. This was the first time since 1936 that the award was not conferred in person to either the recipient or a representative.* In 1936 winner, Carl von Ossietzky, was also prevented from attending by the government he campaigned against, the Nazis. While China likely did this to protest what it believes as a slight against its sovereignty and international reputation, it seems to have unwittingly done so at the expense having its own state controls likened to Nazi oppression. Obviously a damning and unwanted comparison. In addition China used its hard power to coerce other countries to boycott the ceremony as well. China warned of diplomatic "consequences" for countries that sent representatives to the ceremony (46 countries did send representatives and so far no outward consequences have occurred). The country was successful in convincing 15 countries, including the oppressive regime du jour, Egypt, not to attend. In addition China also cut off trade negotiations with Norway as punishment.

Unfortunately for China, its recent attempts at damage control and self-promotion have ended in dismal failures. Even its intended positive ad campaign in Time Square, which we discussed in class, seems to have had little effect on improving Americans' image of the country. For a while China seemed to be riding high on the public diplomacy and social power boost it received from the 2008 Olympics, but now it appears the shine has worn off of that spectacle and China may need to address real issues, like intellectual property rights, trade agreements, militarization and human rights, in order to improve its international image in the long-run.

* According to the Washington Post, in 1991 Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, was not allowed to attend the ceremony by the ruling junta. However, her children accepted the prize in person for her.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting how the same country pulled off an incredibly successful and coordinated display for the 2008 Olympics, but fails miserably in some other aspects of its public diplomacy, such as this hilarious misappropriation of a clip from Top Gun. I'm guessing that the day-to-day news reporting doesn't have nearly as much oversight as the huge spectacle they put on for the Olympics, but I'm curious how China's state-run media functions. Couldn't the news report have just as easily used stock footage?

    And why does China put out blatantly fake news? Last summer, People's Daily (the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China) reported that the Taliban were using monkey soldiers in Afghanistan. Supposedly, "if a person who loves animals knows the monkeys may be injured in the war, they might pressure the government to force the withdrawal of western forces in Afghanistan" :

    I would consider it PD because it effectively comes from the state of China. If it's PD, then what was intended by the monkey story? In the U.S., this is the sort of thing that would only be published in a tabloid for the purpose of entertainment. This is another example of how a news story might damage the credibility of China and its news organizations.