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Sunday, March 15, 2020
China's Public Relations and Covid-19
He Jun

Looking at the recent development of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the situation has been reversed compares with what happened months ago. The outbreak in China has stabilized while the pandemic outside China is accelerating.

As of March 15, the active confirmed cases of Covid-19 in China stood at 10818, while daily new confirmed cases dropped to 38, and daily new deaths dropped to 10. On the same day, there were 9007 new confirmed cases and 391 new deaths outside China. Many European countries are on the brink of collapse. Italy had an increase of 3497 new cases for a combined total of 21157 and a death toll of 1441, while Spain had an increase of 640 new cases for a combined total of 6393 and a death toll of 195. Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases in France increased by 839 for a total of 4500 cases and 91 deaths. Cases in other countries such as Germany are also increasing rapidly with 696 new cases and a total of 4649 cases. Among Asian countries outside China, Iran has the worst outbreak (accumulated 13938 cases, 724 deaths), followed by South Korea (accumulated 8162 cases, 75 deaths).

The change in the pandemic situation within and outside China has not only allowed China to breathe a sigh of relief after two months but also changed the Chinese international outlook on both global pandemic and public opinion. The pandemic is getting more severe globally while public opinion on China is getting more favorable. As China’s pandemic stabilized, it sent out medical teams and materials to aid other countries. This approach is beginning to change some Western media's views on China. For China, it now faces an opportunity to improve the public diplomatic environment and demonstrate the role of major powers. If China seizes the opportunity to improve multilateral efforts in foreign aid, information sharing, and public opinion reporting, this will help improve the country's image.

China's foreign aid is not to gain praise from others; yet the improvement of the country's image does help to boost its diplomatic environment. There are many things China can do in these areas:

Firstly, China could provide direct assistance and support to countries with severe outbreaks. Direct professional team assistance, material assistance, and treatment experience sharing are most needed by countries with severe outbreaks. For developing countries, financial assistance might also be included. In these areas, the assistance and support China can provide include medical supplies, treatment experience, pharmaceutical tests, and medical experts. In these respects, the role of enterprises and social institutions can be brought into play and the government and civil society can mutually cooperate. Presently Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Fosun Group, and Sany Group are already taking action. In addition, China has begun massive industrial production of masks, protective gears, reagent testing, and medical equipment. An increase in export of these goods in the future will utilize Chinese growing production capacity.

Secondly, in addition to Italy, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan to which medical teams have been sent, support can also be expanded to include Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Germany in the future. As long as the other party communicates an aid request, China can provide support and assistance. China should provide visible assistance and support especially for European countries with severe outbreaks and difficulties. China’s choice is mainly due to past diplomatic pressure coming from the West, and the focus of diplomacy improvement could be concentrated in Europe.

Thirdly, Chinese efforts to improve the public diplomatic environment require multiple channels, both official and private. It has been noticed that since the pandemic began to be under control in China, Chinese leaders have been strengthening communication with many countries. President Xi Jinping has spoken with leaders from France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Indonesia, Qatar, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Pakistan, the UAE, Ethiopia, Chile, Cuba, and Italy. He has also spoken with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the European Union stressing that China is confident of beating the pandemic and is willing to help the international community. In addition to official communication, it is also necessary to strengthen non-state communication. Professional medical teams, public health agencies, enterprises, charities, and other social groups can all become important participants in China's public diplomacy.

Fourthly, the improvement for China’s public diplomatic environment should be based on facts and aims to reach people's hearts. Facts can be used to show that in the face of the global pandemic, human beings are a community of destiny that stands by and helps each other. Different countries can completely transcend differences and ideologies, help each other, and seek common aspirations and values. This the most crucial part of ‘universal value’. At the same time, within China itself, the reports on China’s aid should avoid its old rigid “propaganda thought” and stylized publicity. These reports should be based on facts, using international language, and at the same time they should be deeply rooted in the hearts of the people to gain positive reactions from the international community.

Fifthly, China must also avoid the so-called “philosophy of struggle” in its public diplomacy. In the context of the United States' adjustment to China's strategy, China's current and future geopolitical environment may be harsh for an extended period. Therefore, a major task of China's future diplomacy is to change this harsh environment. In a stressful environment, it is easy for China to choose a confrontational path. We believe that in the field of international politics and diplomacy, such confrontational outlook is a political and diplomatic strategy. However, it also has differences between size, depth, and internal-external expression.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong led China struggling against the United States with the Soviet Union, then consolidated the status of New China. Later, he fought with the Soviet Union but was drawn closer to the United States, which resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries, building the political foundation for the subsequent reform and opening-up of China. Such confrontational outlook, or the "philosophy of struggle" is a great strategy, which can effectively serve the Chinese national strategy and improve the country's survival and development environment. The "philosophy of struggle" is actually full of flexibility, humor and tactics in its expression, that even China’s rivals are willing to play geopolitical games with it with dignity.

Another kind of confrontational "philosophy of struggle" is superficial and shallow. This kind of shallow "philosophy of struggle" is often will be manifested as surface-level aggression but lacks strategy, facetiousness, flexibility, and diplomatic tactic. Moreover, it uses a monotonous set of vocabulary that outsiders would not understand. Such superficial "philosophy of struggle" will ultimately be further and further away from the fundamental goal in international political games, which is to promote national interests. At the same time, it does not commensurate with China's image as a great power. Although such "philosophy of struggle" might look rational in the eyes of China, it will instead aggravate rivalry and even confrontation in international exchanges. Therefore, it is not conducive to China's strategic choice with rationality, international influence, and recognition.

Final analysis conclusion:

The latest developments in the Covid-19 pandemic have provided opportunities for China and the international community to cooperate to fight against the disease and assist each other. China should seize the opportunity to show its role as a major power in the international community. As a huge country, China must avoid the appearance of a "philosophy of struggle" that affects and draws China's diplomatic direction. China has the ability and conditions to promote more positive cooperation in this special context, and through foreign assistance and international cooperation China could further improve its public diplomatic environment.

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