Monday, April 30, 2007

Country Image

There’s got to be a genius behind the public relations campaign in China, and right now I wish I had his job. In a recent Newsweek article (Beijing’s Big Push) Joshua Kurlantzick wrote: “China is growing more popular than ever; a major public opinion poll last year found that most ordinary Russians now think China has ‘a positive impact on the world’ and that the United States has a negative one.”

He goes on to explain that, “Over the last five years, while anti-Americanism has surged around the glove, Beijing has worked hard to ingratiate itself in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The name of this game is soft power: making China and its culture as attractive as possible to foreign publics, not just their leaders. For years, Washington has dominated the field. But Beijing’s new outreach-through foreign aid, investment, deft diplomacy, tourism and education- is starting to best American efforts. Ordinary people across the planet now view China more warmly than they do the United States. Polls taken by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the BBC show that majority of people in most countries today consider China to be a more positive influence and less of a threat to international peace than the United States is. Such sentiments are particularly strong in the developing world.” So, I took my own informal survey in this developing country. I asked my host family which country was better, America or China, and, true to Mr. Kurlantzick’s, article, the majority answered China. Although I don’t take my research seriously (two family members said they liked America more because it’s bigger), it was interesting to read about the advance of China’s image over America’s.

To validate the public relations profession even more, Kurlantzick continues, “Beijing is already reaping the benefit of this attitudinal change in traditional, hard-power terms…All this would have been impossible a decade ago, when China seemed to have no idea how to manage its image.”

Bigger than corporate events or television spots, effective public relations of entire countries has the potential to improve the world. “The improving image of the People’s Republic is making cooperation possible in new ways and places,” Kurlantzick writes. “Of course, China’s soft-power campaign could still run off the rails…For now, however, Beijing seems to be enjoying the fruit of its impressive rebranding campaign.”

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