Skip to content

China’s giant panda and diplomacy


“Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national interests; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society.” Dr. Emil Constantinescu, President of the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy (


The exchange of gifts as cultural tokens, and symbols of friendship and as a means of mediating estrangement between two governments or people, is one of the oldest forms of cultural diplomacy. One of the most famous examples was Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong’s gift of two giant pandas Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling to US President Nixon in 1972. It was considered to be “one of the most powerful tokens of the diplomatic thawing of previously complete alienation between two countries in contemporary times” (Pigman, 183, 2010).


The pandas have been used for years by the Chinese as a tool of public diplomacy. After the establishment of the new China in 1949, the Chinese people starting realising the rarity of pandas and they were started being used as the peace ambassadors. Its value in politics as a goodwill ambassador was not new, the panda’s diplomatic career is said to have formally begun in 1950’s. China sent 23 to nine countries between 1957 and 1983 (


In 1974 two pandas were given to Britain ( Over the years several other countries, such as Germany, Mexico and Japan, received pandas from China, Scotland being a quite recent one with the arrival of two pandas in 2011. It was said by Scottish ministers that the loan of the pandas symbolises a “growing friendship” between Scotland and China (


Although China uses pandas as a way of peace offering, to strengthen diplomatic relations with foreign states and publics, to promote cooperation between states, the ‘panda diplomacy’ has its share of critics as well. Rosa Hill, a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare has said that “it’s also not good to treat an animal as a commodity, and these ‘gifts’ set a poor precedent” (


Nowadays almost all pandas that are being exported abroad are not being donated anymore as a way of improving international relations , but rather given on 10-year loans for breeding and biological research. Pandas are an endangered species as there are believed to be only 1600 animals left living in the wild (




Pigman, G. A. (2010). Contemporary diplomacy: representation and communication in a globalized world. Cambridge: Polity

Nation branding: Kazakhstan


The term “nation brand” was coined by Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor. On his website ( he says that “the fate of nations doesn’t only depend on their relationships with the governments of other nations: it depends more than ever before on their relationships with international publics”.  Being admired by people of the general public does make a big difference to a country.  He also states that there is absolutely no proof that governments spending money on advertisements to construct or manipulate countries’ images works at all, the only way to change their images is to change their behaviour.


Place-brand has a great influence, it “increases attractiveness of companies and investments; promotes the objectives of the tourism industry; promotes public diplomacy; supports the interests of the exporting industry and strengthens citizen’s identity and increases self-esteem” (Moilanen and Rainisto, 1, 2009). According to the book (148, 2009), the plan for creating and sustaining a country-brand consists of five stages, out of which the authors deal with the first four. First on the plan being start-up and organisation, research as second, in third they talk about forming brand identity (the so-called strategic work stage) and in fourth making an execution and enforcement plan is mentioned.


The movie ‘Borat: Cultural learnings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan’ was released back in 2006. It is a movie about a fictitious Kazakh journalist traveling through the US to make a documentary, making fun of Western values using the most outrageous racist and sexist statements that cross his mind.


A lot of Kazakhs did not welcome the movie well. When it was released, the authorities banned the the movie and threatened the comedian with a lawsuit. The officials felt that the country was portrayed as a racist and sexist country. Many critics were saying that the film was anti-Semitic and homophobic (


Now, years later, the Government of Kazakhstan has changed its views on the movie and has even thanked the comedian for boosting the tourism in the country with the movie. Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov has said that the fictional Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev’s tour of America in the 2006 film ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ had increased visa applications to the Central Asian nation ten-fold since its release. “It was a great triumph for us and I am grateful to Borat for helping to attract tourists to Kazakhstan” ( “At least they have a reputation now. It may be a bad one, but it’s much easier to turn a negative into a positive than nothing into something”, Simon Anholt has said about the movie in regards to Kazakhstan (


Anholt (p.2, 2007) has said that it is the governments’ responsibility to build a reputation that is “fair, true, powerful, attractive, genuinely useful to their economic, political and social aims, and which honestly reflects the spirit, the genius and the will of the people”. Taking all that into consideration it is understandable why Kazakhstan’s officials got upset about the movie that shows their country in a negative light. All countries do need a reputation, whether it is positive or negative, it gets the place noticed and people taking an interest in it. As the saying ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’ goes, can we actually believe in that statement?




Anholt, S. (2007). Competitive identity: the new brand management for nations, cities and regions. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Moilanen, T. & Rainisto, S. (2009). How to brand nations, cities and destinations : a planning book for place branding. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan


Changing Romania’s negative public image


Romania often appears to be a country with a negative connotation to it. In general when we come across different media coverage on Romania, it seems to always be negative.


For a while now there have been discussions on the topic of immigration. As immigrants have become the focus of insecurities brought about national and global changes, we can see how the British public seem to think that foreigners, including Romanians, come here to either take advantage of the welfare system and live on benefits or to take the jobs of the locals. There is even an online petition to stop mass immigration from Romanians when the restrictions are meant to be dropped in 2014 ( In the beginning of 2013 The Guardian reported on how ministers were considering launching negative advertising campaigns in Romania trying to convince them that Britain’s streets are not “paved with gold” to keep potential immigrants away. “Please don’t come to Britain – it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid” ( The plan was to put emphasis on the downsides of British life, an anti-nation branding with the main focus on the bad weather. Doesn’t it seem that the British are going to extreme lengths in order to keep the Romanians out of the country? Are there enough statistics to even prove that they would come to the UK and not go to any other country?


One of the many associations that are being made with Romanians are gypsies. The negative comments made by public or even politicians do not come only from foreigners. Madalin Voicu, honorific president of the (Romanian) Roma Party, said on 29th of August, 2002 that “Our gypsies are stupid. They could at least be crafty but they aren’t. They are just primitives and they manage to irritate the entire society which is already watching them closely … They run through the country and Europe barefoot, slimy and dirty, wearing clothes which are more likely to disgust you than make you feel sorry for them … Begging, soliciting and being disorganized will never bring them any advantages” ( Was it right from him, as a representative and a member of Romani community himself, to put such a statement out there?


Human trafficking is another big issue. According to the United States State Department’s trafficking in persons report of 2012 ( Romanians represent a significant source of trafficking victims in Europe.  Since Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007, travelling across the border has become easier and the country became more attractive to international human traffickers. There are too many cases reported in various online newspaper articles about how Romanian girls and women have been brought over to Britain to work as prostitutes. Among the girls trafficked from the country is Marinela Badea, a girl who was just 17 when she was kidnapped, held as a prisoner against her will and then forced to work as a prostitute ( If all we notice in the press are negative stories as such, how can the general public be able to see and think anything positive about Romania?


Romania is aware of the image that is being portrayed of them and in response has launched different advertisement campaigns about the positives of the country. Through its embassies, MFA carried out the project “RO20: Romania 1989-2009” with the objective to impart the positive developments over the years. Under the slogan “Romania: un mondo da scoprire” (Romania: a world to discover) the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs set out a public diplomacy campaign to change the Italians minds about Romania( The campaign offered Italians and Romanians to participate together in various events that would bring them closer together through same values and interests that they actually do have in common. A campaign called “Why I love Romania” was launched around the world in 2011 to improve Romania’s image abroad ( Do the ad campaigns work and are they effective enough? How difficult is it to get rid of a negative image that a country has had for a long time?

Promoting “the Brand European Union” through public diplomacy

The brand of European Union has been carefully designed. European Union has its very well-known flag with 12 yellow stars in circle symbolise the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. It has its European anthem – The Ninth Symphony composed in 1823 by Ludwig Van Beethoven. It has its motto:”United in diversity” is the motto of the European Union. It aims to indicate how Europeans have come together to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continents many different cultures, traditions and languages.[1]

However do people understand the concept of EU and its identity? The European Commission suggests that the basic values of European identity are the rejection of war, the fight against poverty and unemployment, protection of the environment; Human Rights, freedom and democracy; the wealth and diversity of European culture.[2] However, nation branding is successful if the brand is lived by citizens. It is believed that the image of brand comes from people.  Indeed, it is the public opinion that brands countries. [3]

European Union aims to educate non-European states about its identity and visions. It tries to present itself as a facilitator of democratic change, advocate for human rights, donor of humanitarian aid, an active contributor to peacekeeping forces and as one of the leader in climate change initiatives.

European scholars argue that European Union is successful in its public diplomacy, as it is attractive for non-European countries. Many new member states have recently joined the Union and there are other states that are still willing to become EU state members. [4]

European Union uses variety of tools in its public diplomacy, it uses media and internet, it publishes newspapers and journals, facilitate student exchanges, builds networks between civil societies, but mainly the public diplomacy is conducted through its European External Action Service (EEAS). EEAS is responsible for all European delegations in non-EU countries. The aim of delegation is to consolidate EU foreign policy, increase EU global influence, help its member states which do not have the capacity to have its own embassies in the receiving state, and also delegations are conducting public diplomacy. The largest EU delegation is in Washington. It has special department for Press and Public Diplomacy. It is in fact it is the only department, which comprises the term public diplomacy.  In 2005 report of the Press and Public diplomacy department identified four areas of EU public diplomacy in US. However, these patterns can be identified in any other receiving countries.

 “1) general perception-oriented public diplomacy (correcting American misperception about Europe), 2)  specific issue public diplomacy (for instance, lobbying for extension of the US visa waiver scheme to all EU member states), 3)  co-operative EU-US public diplomacy (identifying ways of working with the US government on, for example public diplomacy strategies in the Middle East), 4) competitive and conflictual  EU-US public diplomacy ( relating to the issue of dispute between EU and US such as the Boeing – Airbus rivalry  or lifting the EU- China arms ban)”[5]



The public diplomacy of EU is focused on engagement with foreign public; however, even citizens of the European Union consider fellow member countries as foreign. Therefore the public diplomacy of European Union can not only be focused on non-EU public. It is crucial that EU will educate and promote its own image between its own citizens. [6]

European Union aims to coordinate the public diplomacies of its member states. It is believed that collective public diplomacy is beneficial for its member states. It will not weaken member states public diplomacies; in contrast, it is believed that collective public diplomacy will limit the criticism of public diplomacy of member states. And especially smaller countries that have no global profile will benefit from the collective public diplomacy. However EU leaves a space to its member states to maintain their own relations with outside countries. This might cause confusions about the role of European Union and the public diplomacy. [7]

There is lot of scepticism about European Union’s public diplomacy. It is argued that the confusions about the structure of European Union, its policies and collective identity is confusing not only non-EU governments but European citizens as well. One of the main challenges to EU public diplomacy is the lack of vertical coherence within EU. Also its internal structure and process of communication and the general agreement among its member states slows the response of EU to the foreign audiences. It is also argued that often member states do follow their own state interests, which makes the task of finding agreement even more difficult.[8]

There is lot of criticism about the public diplomacy of EU, in many cases the public diplomacy of European Union is judged as the public diplomacy of a nation state, however, European Union is a supranational institution, this for example justifies the nature of public diplomacy and the way in which the “nation” brand is being promoted.

[3]Gyorgy Szondi, Public Diplomacy and Nationbranding:, conceptual similarities and differences, Netherlands Institute of International Relations, October 2008, p.3-5

[4] Marina Litvinsky, European Union public diplomacy : the need for a new frame, Saarbrücken : VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2011, pp. 1-10

[5] Ibid., pp. 22-23

[6] Ibid., p.18

Chinese “public diplomacy” as a response and precautions to its security threats

Studying China’s public diplomacy, one can notice many controversies. Public diplomacy is very often understood as accomplishment of foreign policy goals through engagement with foreign public. States try to achieve this through presenting its own image in very attractive way.[1] China uses public diplomacy, as it aims to be seen as a country that “that works hard to give its people a better future and seeks understanding for its political system and policies.” It aims to be seen as stable and reliable economic partner and trustworthy member of international community actively contributing to world peace. [2]

However, China’s public diplomacy has different spheres of focus. Firstly it is focus on foreign countries and secondly it tries to influence foreign groups, especially Chinese population, which lives overseas. Additionally it is also believed that Chinese public diplomacy is also very focused on its own citizens.[3] China uses variety of means to shape opinions of targeted groups. China uses variety of means of communications to reach the foreign audience (newspapers, radio, television and also internet). In the case of china the channels of communication are state controlled and some of them are state-owned – for example the International Publishing Group, China Daily Newspaper Group and China Central Television. China’s government is very often criticized for its aims to control the press and media. However, in contrast even some American international channels are state-owned – as for example the Voice of America. China has also established International news channel China Central Television, which recently open new branches in Africa and North America. Furthermore China is very active in establishing so called Confucius Institutes, which add to the spread of public diplomacy. It is estimated that there are about seven thousands Chinese teachers and volunteers working abroad in these institutes, contributing to the spread of Chinese language and culture in more than hundred countries. [4]

 However, if we look at threats that China faces, we can understand the stance that is China taking. China’s military strength has recently grown. Also the military budget enlarged by 10 per cent compared with last year (reaching $ 119 billion this year – 2013). Despite of the tensions with western countries, which might have military bases in South- East Asia, could be present; the possibility of real military war between them is very low. The growth of China’s economy contributes to increased interdependence between China and other states. The relations might be changing, as China has been slowly shifting from being the world’s largest producer to be the world’s largest consumer. China is now the biggest export market for countries as Brazil, Japan, USA, Saudi Arabia or European Union. This however does not change the position that China has. The threats from outside China or from western countries are negligible. [5]However there are others security threats that China faces. These are namely terrorism, separatism and extremism. There were separation tensions which led to Taiwan independence. Similarly there are other regions, which might have the separatists’ tensions. There are also security accidents and health incidence that have an influence on social stability. China faces then both traditional and non-traditional threats to its own security, stability and development. Therefore China puts the significance on territorial integrity, development and mainly national unification. [6]

This hence make us understand the way in which China pursue its public diplomacy, as the promotion of Chinese culture and values and its political system is believed to contribute to the country’s unification. It is interesting, but the Chinese public diplomacy has also multiple dimensions. Recently we can see the movement of foreign non-state actors contributing to china’s public diplomacy. As China is becoming to be one of the largest world’s consumers, giant multinational companies might see market opportunities in the promotion of Chinese values. This might be mutually beneficial strategy, as it helps Chinese government to promote China to its own citizens, as well as it helps to increase profit of the multinational companies. For example recently made movie Iron Man 3, has two versions, one International and one special version for China, which has extra 4 minutes of Chinese content. This is interesting move, as previously we can rather see different degree of censorship in movie. In the movie Iron Man 3 we can see not only aspects of “Chinese public diplomacy” (propaganda) but also there are several advertisements of Chinese products.  For example

In Dr. Wu’s office, you can see Tony’s Iron Man on a TV screen, surrounded by Chinese children and what looks like…Dr. Wu. The good doctor then calls Tony, but J.A.R.V.I.S., the A.I. butler, answers. J.A.R.V.I.S. speaks in Mandarin Chinese. While speaking with J.A.R.V.I.S., Dr. Wu actually says in Chinese, “Tony doesn’t have to do this alone—China can help.”

There’s also this extra long shot of Dr. Wu awkwardly pouring a glass of Yili brand Chinese milk. But it’s pure product placement. Before the movie starts, there are two China specific ads: One of them is a Chinese milk commercial that, as The Hollywood Reporter points out, asks, “What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?” The answer is a Yili milk drink. The second commercial is for a Chinese manufacturer of tractors and cranes.[7]

iron man

[1]  Geoffrey Cowan, Nicholas J. Cull, Public diplomacy in a changing world, Thousand Oaks, Calif : Sage, 2008

Public Diplomacy


Recent News

There have been several interesting developments in the realm of public diplomacy in the news of late. This article succinctly summarises a selection of the main events.

Turkish Prime Minister to visit Washington

Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is visiting US President Barack Obama on a diplomatic mission with the expected goals of specific discussion over the current priority topics including those with Syria, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, and Armenia. Mr. Erdoğan is also expected to position his country in Washington as an influential policy maker and soft power broker in its region, and combine this level of soft power with its ongoing position as NATO’s second largest conventional army.

Source: Pierini, 2013.

Meeting of the Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy

The US Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy (ACIEP) is this week hosting its quarterly meeting this week. The committee acts in an advisory capacity to the US Government on current affairs, issues and challenges that the country may face or that are taking place globally in terms of international economic policy.

The specific agenda that has been set out for this meeting includes developments in US international trade initiatives, the US’s role in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and also its role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This committee is an example of soft power and public diplomacy measures that are employed by the US government as tools for developing economic agreements and trade links with other countries and regions.

Source: US Department of State, 2013.

Growing Soft Power more than appeal to Western Interest

Unusual Forms of Public Diplomacy – Romanian Hay Sculptures 27/03/13

Near The Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park there are 2 abstract hay sculptures standing in the middle of the West Lake. The sculptures are entitled “bird” and “skyscraper” and are rather bizarre looking things and their reason for being there is equally unusual.
They have been donated to the East London park by Romanian artist Erno Bartha and are temporary attractions to promote Romanian art and culture. Their appearance in the lake was timed to coincide with the Olympics to make the most of the international foot traffic filling the park around the time of the Olympic Games. There is also a small plaque explaining where the sculptures are from.
I just thought that this was a rather unusual and unexpected way of promoting your country’s culture and I must admit, I certainly knew absolutely nothing about Romanian art before seeing the sculptures, so in a way they have done their job rather well by attracting interest and attention. Can we qualify this as a form of public diplomacy?