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China’s Cultural Diplomacy: Historical Origin, Modern Methods and Strategic Outcomes

PalitComprehending behaviors of nation-states has never been easy. Understanding China is particularly difficult given the great divide in terms of language (yu yan) and culture (wen hua). Beijing is conscious of this difficulty in communicating with the rest of the world. To tackle the “hegemony of discourse”— perceived in Beijing as a persistent effort by the West to project a negative image of China and promote “western values” for maximizing its own interests1 —and to overcome its own weakness of the “power of the word” (hua yu quan), China has embarked on vigorous cultural diplomacy (CD), a strategy used since ancient times for communicating with the rest of the world. China considers culture essential in correcting adverse impressions created by its rapid strategic rise. Consequently, culture has emerged as the third pillar of Chinese diplomacy after economics and politics, with the 18th Congress in 2012 endorsing its relevance and the more recent Third Plenary in 2013 reaffirming its importance. Cultural diplomacy and soft power are important strategies for the Chinese leadership in developing benign impressions about China and securing strategic dividends through “virtuous” policies of engagement.

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