Friday, March 20, 2009

China's Military Taking PR Classes

China is taking an imporant step in elevating its appearance of sophistication. It's pushing PR training for its military personnel.

From The Associated Press:

Photo from The New York Times

BEIJING (AP) — China's military is training propaganda teams for the first time to explain its actions to the outside world, as the traditionally insular and secretive force engages more with other countries' militaries and deploys its ships and personnel abroad.

An initial class of 51 officers graduated this week in an effort to "raise the opinion-forming ability of the force's foreign propaganda team and advance the innovation and development of the military propaganda work," the official People's Liberation Army Daily reported Friday.

The two-week training course included classes dealing with China's recent dispatch of ships to carry out anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, as well as joint China-India anti-terror drills and other international missions, it said.

Course work included mock news conferences with reporters from the PLA Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency, the PLA Daily said...

"The Chinese army needs to know about international practice. They need to know how to show friendliness when meeting foreign military officials, and they need to learn how to give public speeches in front of the media," Yan said.

Read On
When thinking about how China handles its image abroad, I often think about a conversation with my South African friend Joseph in 2006.

Joesph, a former English teacher in Xi'an, is a "Jew from Joburgh" (Johannesburg). In addition to teaching me a lot about South Africa (about which I knew very little), we had a lot of discussions about Israel and its foreign relations. A lot of our discussions took place while traveling in Yunnan Province in the summer of 2006 when Israel was shelling Lebanon relentlessly.

At that time, I remember discussing the international community and media's reaction to Israel's large response to Lebanon's rocket attacks. The tone and implication we were getting from the reports we watched on CNN International (as we played Scrabble in a youth hostel) was that Israel's response was disproportionate.

I asked Joseph whether he thought Israel's reaction was disproportionate and whether Israel should be concerned whether the international community deemed it so. His response was something to the effect of:
No, I don't think Israel's response is too much. And no, I don't think Israel should be concerned about what other counties think of what it does.

First, Lebanon was shooting rockets into Israeli cities. What is it supposed to do when that happens? What would happen if that were occurring in America? Israel has the right to protect itself when someone else threatens its people.

Second, people are always going to dislike Israel's actions. Why? Because Israel doesn't care what any other country thinks and doesn't take those concerns into consideration when it acts. It resides in a region where every other country around it wants it destroyed. If it doesn't do what it thinks is best for itself, then it is basically committing suicide.
I've though a lot about Joseph's points when thinking of both the United States and China and their actions abroad. His idea that "Israel is going to do what it's going to do whether others like it or not" seems to fit well both with the United States and China.

For the United States, it's obvious that its foreign policy has not taken into consideration what others think for some time. The list of actions that fit this are probably quite long, but the two most obvious to me are the Iraq War and the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. The rest of the world had (or still has) major qualms with these actions, but the US went ahead and carried them out anyways. If others didn't like it, well, too bad.

America, realizing that PR is important, sent out Donald Rumsfeld every day to press conferences. While the rest of the world may not have been too impressed with these performances, America and its media were enthralled.

The same phenomenon of its own citizens being impressed where the rest of the world is disapproving can be seen in so many ways in China. I'm not going to get into the details since many of these events revolve around politically sensitive topics in the People's Republic of China, but anyone who follows China's news at all will have a pretty good idea of what areas I'm talking about.

This popular support within the country and unpopularity abroad was very obviously seen in last year's Olympics. While there were tons of reports about controversies revolving around the opening ceremonies, the age of the athletes pollution, and a number of other issues, those things were ignored by the Chinese media. And subsequently, the Chinese population at large is under the impression that not a thing went wrong at the 2008 Olympics.

(I may be off on this seeing that I lived in China, but my impression is that the Olympics were largely seen as being "successful." I'm sure that's open to debate though.)

So China is doing fine in terms of convincing its own people that what it does is right. It just needs to clean up its image abroad. (The US, on the other hand, has been in need of a revamp in regards to just about every aspect of its image abroad and internally. Hence, Obama and his message of "Change" which made the international community happy as well as the country that voted him into office.)

Israel, America, China all do what they want when they want because they are strong enough and have "earned" that right. While world governing bodies like the UN and others are still important, superpowers and countries with mighty militaries will do what they want regardless.

A sustained PR push could have the potential of helping China get up to current standards of international diplomacy and might even bring more countries on board with what it does and wants to do. It could also placate the rest of the world which wants a China that plays the game according to international rules and formalities.

No comments: