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Removing the wall
2009/07/31

 

When I was speaking to British students, they were quite sure that China was a world power. They wanted to know how a stronger China will use its power and what it means to the world when a country so different from the West was rising. This reflects a widely shared view in the West. According to a survey in Europe, 80% of respondents saw China as the No.2 power in the world after the United States.

It seems there is a yawning gap between perception of the world which regards China as a power, and that of the Chinese people who see China as a developing country. China's economy may lead that of the UK in some aggregate indicators, but China's per capita GDP is only 1/15 that of the UK. For example, the land area and population of Britain is roughly the same as that of Hunan Province, but its GDP is 17 times that of Hunan. Britain is in a post-industrial stage, with urban population accounting for 90% of the total, whereas 60% of the Chinese are rural residents. Even the number of people with disabilities in China exceeds the total population in Britain.

China is a country with dual characters. That is why we often say that it is both big and small, strong and weak. It ranks high in the world in aggregates and on quantity scales, but it falls behind in per capita terms and in quality. There is a long way to go for China to reach the level of world power. It maybe destined to contribute more to world peace and development, but this will be an incremental process and China can't play a role in the world beyond its capacity.

The Western media comments are not always balanced about China. There seems to be an invisible wall separating the West and China, made up of the shadow of differences in political systems and values, the legacy of the Cold War and the lagging in responding to the rapid development of China. But most of all, the wall is there as a result of lack of understanding. I find there is limited information about China in most Western countries, particularly about today's China. In China, information about the West is relatively abundant and readily available. For example, there are many original English books and their Chinese translations in bookstores in Beijing or any other city, but it’s hard to find books about modern China in bookshops in the UK. Chinese students in schools are taught about the UK, including its industrialisation and literary excellence, but China and its stories are not so much known to the British.

On its part, China also needs to do more in terms of explaining its story to the Western media and the general public. Last year, I was disappointed about the negative reporting by some media about the Olympic torch relay in London in April. When I raised it, I was challenged: “why are you not putting your point to the public?” So I did. My article on the Daily Telegraph attracted an interesting debate. Many people wrote to comment and some supported my views. That was a good learning process and it shows that our voice can be heard. The question is do we try.

In the past 60 years, especially 30 years of reform and opening-up, China has made solid steps and its economic strength has made qualitative leaps every few years. Chinese tourists, students and companies are now found all over the world. China's growth depends more than ever before on external markets, resources and technology. China is also playing an increasingly active role on the world's stage and its statements get serious consideration. British newspapers report about China regularly. Incidents in China may turn into hot media stories worldwide.

This calls for more active public diplomacy on our part, to enable the world to know more about China and to win more understanding and acceptance for China's peaceful development. No country is perfect. We need to present the facts as they are and let the world know that China is confronted with serious challenges. We should not only inform the world of our achievements, but also our effort to face up to problems. We need to be proactive and let China's voice be heard on all matters concerning China. As China's relations with the world grow, the opportunities and challenges in public diplomacy also increase. In recent years, Chinese leaders and diplomatic missions are making greater efforts in this area and the Chinese people traveling, studying and working abroad are also playing a role.

Some in China may ask: Isn't the West set to contain China? Isn't the Western media determined to smear China's image? What is the point of engaging them in public diplomacy? I would say that, there are always people out there trying to contain China and smear our image, and it may be impossible to change their mind, but most people in the Western World want to understand and know more about China. We should be confident and engage.

 

Article by Ambassador Fu Ying to the Telegraph on July 29th

 

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