Enhancing ties with the European Union (EU) and individual European countries, and improving China's image in Europe, are part of China's overall foreign policy of building and strengthening relations with great powers. Chinese interests in Europe are mainly economically and politically oriented, direct mutual security interests remain limited. China aims at maintaining good relations with the EU as well as with each individual country. Many European member states give priority to developing their own bilateral relations with China above working on a common EU approach. This explains why China pays much attention to bilateral relations with major European powers such as France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

China has been strengthening its soft power projection by rapidly developing public diplomacy strategies. In addition to redressing incidents and negative news, these strategies serve four major goals. First, China wants to be seen as a country that strives to build a harmonious society and that works hard to give its people a better future. It seeks understanding and recognition, of its political system and policies. Second, China wants to be seen as a stable, reliable and responsive economic partner, a rising economic power that does not have to be feared. This is the crux of China's policy of good neighbourliness and the 'harmonious world' and 'peaceful rise strategies'. Third, Beijing wants China to be seen as a trustworthy adn responsible member of the international political community, capable of and willing to contribute actively to world peace. Lastly, China wants to be acknowledged and respected as an ancient but vibrant culture. Translated into domestic and pragmatic terms, China's public diplomacy has to boost the Chinese Communist Party's legitimacy as China central ruler and 'serve the need of sustainable and steady economic and social development at home.

China's public diplomacy in Europe focuses in the first place on building political trust by improving the image of China's political system, its foreign policies and the human rights situation. Europe is very concerned about China's domestic conditions; much more so, it appears, than the United States. China recognizes Europe as a normative power and knows that human rights are a cornerstone of many European countries' foreign policies. It is therefore not surprising that building political trust is more prominent in China's public diplomacy in Europe than elsewhere in the world. China is interested in learning from- and cooperating-with Europe on issues like good governance and the rule of law, but does not want Europe to interfere in its policies. It does not seek to convince Europe of the superiority of its political and economic model, but it wants European leaders and audiences to recognize the Chinese model as  a valid alternative for China, one that suits the Chinese circumstances best. Furthermore, Beijing wants to stop the harmful negativism about China. Europe's media have therefore become one of the major target groups of China's public diplomacy.

Second, China's public diplomacy in Europe addresses increasing fears of China's economic rise and tries to lure foreign investments. The EU us China's biggest trading partner and China's overall economic and trade interests in Europe are considerable. Beijing's public diplomacy needs to counter the rising European criticism of the increasing EU-China trade deficit and of Chinese trade barriers, and seeks to convince European audiences that China's economic development offers opportunities for business.

Chinese embassies in major European capitals translate the overall goals into a more detailed public diplomacy strategy that is fine-tuned to the local situation. Chinese diplomats in European capitals are courting the local media and increasingly speak out on television and local newspapers. China's leaders realize that more understanding of Chinese culture and ideas are an absolute prerequisite for acceptance by the international community. They    feel that the negative views are mainly the result of lack of knowledge or misunderstanding of Chinese values and of the difficulties confronting China. Chinese leaders strongly believe that it is absolutely necessary to know the basic Chinese values in order to have a good understanding of what has happened and what will happen in China. The Chinese foreign ministry wants to enable the general public in other countries to know China better, so that they better appreciate and support China's domestic and foreign policies.

The Chinese side often points out that the EU and China share many ideas in dealing with international issues: visions of a multi-polar world, a strong aversion to military action to solve crisis; a preference for a more balanced international order that is based on multilateralism. Both China and the EU advocate a leading role to be played by the United Nations and they see China and Europe confronted with issues that require concerted efforts to cope  such as the issues of globalizationn climate change, terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and epidemic diseases.

Although lack of knowledge about China amon European publics is certainly an important factor leading to negative European views of China, it is not the most important obstacle. A bigger problem us the enormous gap between European ideas and values, a factor that Chinese policy-makers often fail to grasp. There is less comminality in political thinking than perceived by the Chinese side. Beijing does not realize how deeply European societies are permeated by the values of democracy, human rights, rule of law and fundamental principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of demonstration, even if European societies' governments are willing to take a more pragmatist approach to ensure a country's material interests. Both sides may agree on international political goals, such as multi-polarity, multilateralism and democratization, but their understanding of what exactly these concepts  mean differ considerably. The Chinese have a realist, state-centric understanding of multilateralism; for the Europeans multilateralism involves the sharing of sovereignty. The Chinese discourse on democratization focuses on responsibility, responsiveness and government accountability, while Europe regards it as a broad system that involves free media, an undependent judiciary, rule of law and full respect for civil rights. These gaps un thinking cannot simply be explained away by providing European publics with more information. A long term dialogue is needed to create understanding in Europe for the Chinese way of thinking. The media can, in principle, play an important role in this process but in China's case the media's effectiveness as a communicator to Western audiences is limited.   




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