China's projected image - A structured, focused comparison in the United States of America

Master's Thesis, 2011

95 Pages, Grade: VG



I. Introduction
1.1. Research Question
1.2 Purpose and the Structure of Research

II. Literature Review and Research Gaps

III. Research Design

IV. Theory
4.1. Soft Power

Section 1
1.1 Image
1.2 Chinese Self Image
1.3 Chinese Existing Image in the United States
1.4. China Threat Theory

Section 2
2.1 Projected Image
2.2 China’s Projected Image

Section 3
3.1 Sources of Projected Image
3.1.1 Public Diplomacy
3.1.2 PR
3.2 Chinese Public Diplomacy
3.3 Chinese PR strategies

Section 4
4.1 Effectiveness of Chinese Projected Image
4.1.1 Analysis of BBC (GlobeScan and PIPA)’s Results
4.1.2 Analysis of Pew Research Centre’s Results
4.1.3 Analysis of Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index
4.2 Comparison and Final Analysis




I. Introduction

After the end of cold war; the traditional concept of power experienced a shift in global politics. In the new era; countries establish strong economic linkages, they engage and affect each other politically, socially and economically. This interactive process enables them to adopt new and pragmatic policies. Countries redefine their economic strategies, reshape their attitudes and reorganize their governmental structures. Rapid information flow enables to reconsider the old behaviours thus countries seek ways to benefit from the new approaches. They internalize current technologies which brings new practises.

This interaction is also experienced in theoretical field. Academic wisdom witnesses a close cooperation which brings numerous theoretical frameworks closer. For instance; Political science borrows concepts from sociology, psychology or marketing sector and reinterprets those for additional gains. This entanglement, changes the structures of institutions which ultimately affects the general frame of international relations.

Countries are increasingly concerned to employ new approaches in global politics. They want to internalize the benefits of change. China is one of the fastest changing countries which aim to sustain its dynamism. China is not only changing but it is becoming more powerful. This process gives a rise to many opportunities as well as problems. Beijing’s change both affects itself and other actors . Some countries such as United States have important links with Beijing. Increased trade, significant bilateral investments, financial engagement; political issues bring the two actors closer (Economy, 2004).

On the other hand, China and United States have a multidimensional and complex relationship. They often criticize each other’s policies. China emphasizes the importance of sovereignty or non intervention in internal affairs whereas United States underlines the political, economic rights and democratic self expression. Cooperation and Criticism go hand in hand and sometimes one overweighs the other.

The final status of Taiwan, human rights issues in Xinjiang and Tibet, demarcation and drilling problems in South China Sea, US trade deficits, environmental concerns, intellectual property rights, Chinese low national currency and China’s treasury bond holdings in US constitute the major debates between the two countries.

China is aware that her rising power gathers attention in global arena. China is also aware that ‘ ’how the power is perceived ‘’ is more important than the power itself.

In order to sustain its economic growth; China seeks more cooperation, trade and political stability. Nye argues that ‘’ Communist ideology is long gone. In the absence of democracy; C.P.C’s legitimacy is based on Economic growth and stability.’’[1] Whether this argument is true or not; China wants to avoid political tension which leads to economic instability or a possible confrontation in international politics.

Strategically; China does not want to repeat the old mistakes of Soviet Union.[2] It does not want to be branded negatively. Although it is not realistic to contain China; Beijing avoids being a subject to US-led containment policies [3] which can limit the political and economic capacities of China.

Simultaneously, China wants to expand its influence both regionally and internationally. However; traditional concepts of power fall short to achieve stated goals. Today; Coercive policies; military build ups, territorial expansion strategies are not considered realistic. These are neither efficient nor cost-effective tools to materialize the national interests. Conversely; those policies trigger hesitations and lead to counter strategies therefore ‘’winning the hearts and minds’’ are primarily important.

‘’ How the countries are perceived ‘’is essential. Accumulated experiences show that negative image of a country poses strategic threat. Eytan Gilboa (2008) argues that ‘’ Favourable image and reputation around the world, achieved through attraction and persuasion, have become more important than territory’’ (p56). Today; most of the political and economic goals are achieved by coherent self- presentation therefore a good image projection and accurate communication process are significant.

As Former Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld underlines ‘’ a single news story, handled skilfully, can be as damaging to our cause and as helpful to theirs, as any other method of military attack[4] Mentioned words point out the importance of media but more importantly; it shows the power of public opinion.

National images are important assets; Chinese image building efforts are not only about boosting national pride. China aims to eliminate the old stereotypes; it does not want to be perceived as a threat in global politics. Chinese policymakers have already noted that a good image has geometrical affects on foreign policy, national economy and social stability. A good image attracts the foreign direct investments, increases the consumption of country products abroad, helps to expand political influence, decreases the likelihood of political isolation; diminishes the external criticism in internal affairs. (Anholt, 2008)

There is gap between how China sees itself and how the outside world perceives China (See Chart I). There is also a gap between the potential of Chinese power and its existing influence in global arena therefore China engages in image projection.

1.1. Research Question

United States is the most influential actor in international politics. Economic and military capacities allow the United States to become the leading player of the international system. China is the biggest exporter and financial creditor of the U.S whereas United States is the third biggest supplier of Chinese imports. This situation makes the bilateral relations more than important. China pays attention to how it is perceived in global arena. Simultaneously it attaches importance to U.S public opinion therefore China re-designs its mechanisms to affect the foreign public perception.

One should note that countries do not have a total control over their images and this point constitutes an absorbing research puzzle. There are too many variables which simultaneously affect the public perception. This process is more intensive in democratic and open societies which the public has various information channels to collect information. However; countries try to employ effective, coherent and persistent image projections to manage the public perception (Ramo, 2007; Grunig, 1993).

In sum; Chinese strategic concerns lead Beijing to project its desired image in the U.S therefore my research question will be: How does China try to project its ideal image in the United States?

1.2 Purpose and the Structure of Research

This study explains the Chinese image building efforts by exploring the research question. It tries to understand the strategic concerns and motivation points of Chinese image projection. It also evaluates how China employs perception changing tools such as communication models, Public Diplomacy and Public Relations. Another aim of the study is to understand that how the American public opinion is shaped. It seeks that which variables have influence on US public opinion. This study argues that public perception witnesses an interactive dialogue with other agents. It is affected by other variables and it also affects the variables. For instance elites are the members of public but they also operate as a separate variable to design the public opinion.

In order to understand the whole process; I start with the theoretical roots of image building. Images are socially designed concepts which are constructed by human beings. People experience things and interpret information which is disseminated from various channels therefore Constructivist theory sheds a light on perception management process. Constructivist approach is also a social theory where International Relations come into existence therefore I touch upon the construction process of identity, state identity and the construction of ‘’interests’’. This process includes how people construct the concepts of ‘’self’’ and ‘’other’’ which I will interpret on a state level. Although Constructivism helps to locate my theoretical background; the study needs an additional framework to operationalize the state behaviour therefore I borrow Joseph Nye’s ‘’Soft power ‘’ theory which helps me to explore the ultimate motivation of state actions.

After establishing the theory; the first section starts with the self image of China. This part shows how Chinese people and elites perceive themselves and which factors give a rise to that perception. Then I will explore how the US public perceives China. This analysis gives me an opportunity to understand the differences and gaps between the Chinese views and U.S. views of China. In this part I will also underline which internal variables shape the US public opinion.

In the second part I will explore China’s projected image. This section points out how are the desired concepts internalised. China develops national strategies which serve as more than a foreign policy concept. For instance; peaceful development concept is not only a foreign policy, it includes domestic policies such as national coherence, harmonious society and equal economic opportunities. In order to understand the domestic aspects I will point out the differences between self image and projected image. Self image is a social and psychological phenomenon however projected image comprises strategic, economical and political concerns therefore this section evaluates the underpinnings of mentioned process. More importantly; this part examines couple of questions such as; how does Chinese projected image occur, which pillars construct the Chinese motivations. Which principles are employed to build the projected image?

Third section, especially, gives a close look to the sources of Image Projection. In this section; I will describe and analyze the specific tools of Chinese perception management. I will explore How Chinese policy makers benefit from public diplomacy and PR. Additionally I will evaluate the structure of Chinese Public diplomacy as well as her PR campaigns in United States. This outlook will help me to understand how and to what extent do Chinese policy makers operationalize the image building activities.

In the last section, I will look at the different opinion polls which examine the effectiveness of Chinese efforts. My time interval is 2005-2010 thus it enables me to understand two things namely, the development of Chinese image building efforts and the effectiveness of Chinese PD and PR campaigns. This time interval is specifically chosen because Chinese peaceful development concept took its mature form at the end of 2004 and many opinion polls (Gallup excluded) do not have sufficient data before that time.

This section includes a final explanation about the status of Chinese efforts which also brings an explanation of how the US public opinion is shaped.

II. Literature Review and Research Gaps

Recently; the literature has an increasing interest in Chinese regional efforts and its expanding regional power. (Lum et al, 2008 ; Parama, 2010 ; Kurlanzcik , 2006 ; Keane 2010; Switky et al, 2008; Shambough , 2003 ) These studies evaluate the Chinese relations in South East Asia. Some of the works such as (Mc Giffert et al,2009 ; Ying Fan, 2002) also evaluate intercontinental relations of China. Rotberg(2008) and Taylor (2006) on the other hand; have specific examinations about China’s relations with Africa. Mentioned works point out the Chinese overseas links and economic interests. Some examples are given from South America and Europe, such as Chinese purchase diplomacy and significant amount of imports from France and Germany which accompanied by economic relations in Venezuela, Brazil and Sudan.

Some studies (Taylor (2006) 2008 ; Mingjiang,2008, Zheng 2005) draw a general frame about the Chinese soft power discourse. They underline how Beijing evaluates the concept of soft power.

Other studies (Nye, 2004, 2008, 2011; Young and Jeong, 2008; Wang and Yuan Kang, 2006) make a specific comparison- between the soft power of United States and China. Those works give suggestions to US policy makers about the possible negative effects of China’s growing soft power. For instance (Paul, 2005) conceptualizes Chinese grand strategy as ‘’soft balancing of United States’’. Other studies such as (Bolewski and Rietig, 2007; Bell, 2009) underline the theoretical and philosophical pillars of Chinese soft power. Bell examines the Confucian roots of Chinese principles which underline the motivation points of soft power.

Su (2010) makes observations about the Chinese film industry whereas Gill and Huang (2006) point out the sources (national media) and limits of Chinese soft power.

Regarding the benefits of soft power; Couple of studies make examinations about the Foreign direct investments in China (Sarah and Wong, 2003; Fox et al, 2005; Child and Tse, 2001; Lujungwall and Lee 2007)

On the other hand; there are few studies which establish a link between the Soft power and the sources of soft power especially in Chinese case. Nye (2008), Yiwei Wang (2008), Hongying Wang (2003), J Zhang&Cameron (2003, 2004) make important contributions in this field.

Generally; the literature examines the public diplomacy as a‘’ sui generis’’ case. Important aspects of Public Diplomacy are successfully covered by some studies (Snow and M.Taylor, 2009 ; Lord 2006, Melissen 2007) and other studies (Potter, 2002 ; Henrikson, 2006 ; Roberts, 2007 ; Cull, 2008, 2010) give theoretical density to the field however most of them reflects the American experiences.

Couple of Studies (Jaime and Roth,2007; Fravel and Medeiros, 2003; D’Hooghe, 2007 ) examines the Chinese Public Diplomacy whereas mentioned works above briefly touch upon the Chinese experiences.

One study makes a connection between the Chinese Public diplomacy and Mass media (Rumi, 2004) whereas some of the works perceive the Chinese activities as a new form of propaganda (Brady,2006; Shaumbough,2007; Juntao and Brady, 2009; White, 2000 ).Those authors make a comparison between the old forms of propaganda an give a reference to former studies (Wedge , 1971 ; White 1971 ).

On the other hand, there are few studies which show the differences and similarities between Public Relations and Propaganda ( Krukeberg and Vucnovic,2005 ; Ni Chen,2003, Kosar,2005).However; this pitfall does not prevent the literature covering Public Relations successfully.(Turk and Scanlan,2008 ; Wilcox, 2006 ; Sriramesh and Vercic, 2001 ; Botan 1992 ; Suman Lee, 2006 ; Sorell, 2008) those works examine the use of public relations in international business sector . They also point out the governments-PR relations.

Hiebert(1992) makes early observations on how public relations came into existence in post communist countries. Manheim and Albritton (1984) and Ewan (1996) shed a light on early studies which covers ‘’ How PR is used by media’’. Those works also touch upon the effectiveness of agenda setting whereas Ying Fan( 2004) and Sriramesh et al( 2009 ) make the similar observations in Asian countries.

One should note that the literature falls short of finding an effective theory for public diplomacy.Gilboa (2008) admits this situation and suggests further developments in Grunig’s, Entman’s and Benoit’s models however those studies are originally communication models therefore there are existing gaps in the theoretical aspect of Public diplomacy.

Another important point is that there are a handful of studies ( Signitzer and Coombs, 1992 ; Ham, 2002 ) which emphasize the conceptual proximity between Public Diplomacy and PR.

Regarding the Image Building activities; the literature is divided into two groups.

First group states that Political-strategic motivations construct the ‘’images of nations’’. (Boulding, 1959 ; Morgan, 2004 ; Ndoye, 2010 ) From this aspect, couple of studies give a close look to Chinese agenda building in United States (J. Zhang and Cameron, 2003), Chinese self image (Fei Ling ,1999 ; Ramo , 2007) and foreign policy interests (Hongying Wang , 2003). Other studies evaluate how some influential groups demonize China’s image in United States (Jianqing Wu, 2010; Lubman, 2004; Shambough, 2003 ; Richardson, 2010; Broomfield, 2003).

Second group perceive the image building efforts as a result of ‘’ marketing activity’’. This branch takes the entire image building literature as a marketing concern which embodies in ‘’place branding’’, ‘’nation branding’’,’’ brand image’’ and ‘’country of origin’’ concepts. These studies (Aronczyk, 2008 ; Ham, 2008 ; Dinnie, 2003 ; Ryan, 2002) examine the development process of city-place-destination branding which contributes to national income.

Anholt (2003, 2004, and 2006) makes important studies that how marketing techniques can be applied to territorial entities to increase the national wealth. S.Roth (1995) and Hall (2002) make observations about the identity, culture and place branding. De Vicente (2004); Babra and Homer (2004) ; Kavaratzis ( 2007) make examinations about the cultural products and the strategic use of culture. Han and Terpstra (1988) emphasize that Countries and locations have the power to change the consumer choices. Ramo (2007) and Szondi (2008) examines how do ‘’country brands ‘’or ‘’country itself as a brand’’ create political and strategic gains in global arena.

Place brand is also entangled with country reputation and there are couple of studies (Hutton et al, 2001; Jiang Wang, 2006, Fombrun and Shanley, 1990) which explore the reputation management. From this point of view, some studies focus on image repair process in crisis times which borrow strategies from private sector experiences (Benoit,1997; Burnett,1998 ; Boin 2005, Blumler , 1995) However it is difficult to find the applications of image repair strategies in Chinese case.

A Few authors examine ( Loh, 2004; Wong and Yongnian, 2004) the SARS, from image repair case but they are mostly evaluated as an internal communication failure within China. There are significant amount of studies about the Chinese- American bilateral relations however there are not too many studies which examines a timeline of Chinese image in US media. One study employs interrupted times series approach in 1989-2005 and other two studies make short term observations in national and local (Iowa) US newspapers.

Regarding Opinion Polls there is sufficient data for the last 6 years however only Gallup has early results before that time. BBC (in partnership with GlobeScan and PIPA), Pew Research Center and Anholt Index are other sources which conduct their studies on significant amount of people.

III. Research Design

Method, Selection of Cases, Time Interval and Variables

In this thesis I will follow a structured, focused comparison method. The general body of research watches a straightforward path. As George and Bennett(2005) puts it; structured model; needs general questions about the research objectives (p67). On the other hand the thesis is involved with the specific aspects of a case therefore it is a focused model. This research method; enables to establish standard ‘’general questions in a single study’’ (Ibid) therefore it is not a controlled comparison method.

Furthermore, the thesis includes social phenomenon such as beliefs, behaviours, attitudes which complicates the control of variables. Cognitive variables are difficult to isolate and it is also difficult to measure whether the ‘’ different causal patterns lead to similar outcomes’’ (Ibid, p206) therefore the second section of the study benefits from ‘’ within case of causal interpretation ’’ (Ibid). Since I do not have competing theories; my study starts with a single theory then it tries to explain the outcome with a specific case.

Regarding the possible competing theories; there are couple of approaches such as securitization, identity formation, group identity and cognitive consistency.

Securitization needs a coherent agenda. In Chinese case one can find numerous speech acts in regards to China’s future intentions. These concerns are conceptualized as China threat theory however one can also find significant amount of indicators to emphasize the strong relationship between China and United States. I argue that people have dualistic attitudes towards China therefore; one can securitize the Chinese military actions but it is not a healthy approach to understand the Chinese projected image. For instance one cannot present the greenhouse gasses as a threat and opportunity at the same time. But China is presented as a threat and opportunity concurrently. There are different views from different information channels which are disseminated simultaneously. Furthermore; U.S government and U.S state policy perceives China as a competitor. China is neither solely an ally nor an enemy. One can also point out that the rational US policy choice perceives China as a partner. Beijing is the biggest creditor and exporter to U.S. therefore it is difficult to constitute a coherent agenda for securitization.

Identity formation, group identity and State identity are related theories about the self image and they are briefly touched upon. Although mentioned theories construct the pillars of social and political existence, they do not give detailed information about the motivations of states. The main body of my study is centred around the image projection and the causes of desired image therefore, I use a strategic explanation(soft power theory) rather than social formation process.

Regarding the cognitive consistency theory; it aims to bring explanations about the beliefs and behaviour patterns of policy makers but it falls short to define the individuals’ beliefs and the perception of society therefore mentioned works are excluded.

The theory part is operated by constructivist approach which sheds light on the basic concepts of social construction. It is followed by brief comparison between the realist wisdom and constructivist understanding. Thereafter the observation takes place on a state level especially, within the International Relations. This approach gives a chance to evaluate some concepts such as ‘’state interest’’ and ‘’otherization’’ .

The second part of my study consists of Chinese self image and Chinese existing image in United States therefore I look at the sources of Chinese self image such as culture, tradition and Confucian roots, I also examine the existing perception of American society towards China which leads me to look at studies such as US newspapers and media coverage. Two studies use interrupted times series in national newspapers between 1989-2005 and 2000-2002, one study forms its own classification (positive, negative framing) in Iowan local newspapers.

Another point is that I use China threat theory as a counterfactual argument. China threat theory is another independent variable which is widely used to criticize the future intentions of China. Although it is an estimation about China ; it is an existing independent variable for US public perception therefore I locate ‘’China Threat Theory ‘’ in the second section.

For the other part, I examine the Chinese projected image and the motivation behind the Chinese intentions. This section also covers the examples of image projection such as the peaceful rise which evolves into peaceful development and finally metamorphosis into harmonious society. This part is followed by sources and implementations of image projection therefore I look at the Chinese public diplomacy and Chinese PR activities. At this level I control the Chinese projected image by dividing it into two periods. The longitudinal case is divided in two parts as ‘’before ‘’the PD, PR campaigns and ‘’after’’ the PD, PR campaigns. The strategic use of Chinese image projection started in late 2003 and continued to take a mature form in 2004(at Boao forum)[5] and 2005(by Hu Jintao and State Council Information Office)[6]. In this period International community witnessed new concepts such as peaceful rise, peaceful development and harmonious society which were conceptualized by Beijing as policy behaviour. The designer of Chinese policy motives ; Zheng Bijian and Hu Jintao also note that those concepts are more than a foreign policy doctrine which guides the Chinese grand strategy therefore my time interval is between 2005 and 2010.

To do this; I look at the three well known opinion polls (BBC, Pew, Gallup)

In order to examine the benchmarks; I look at the head of state visit (2006), PR campaigns (2005-2006) Beijing Olympics (2008) and continuous advertisements. Head of state visits and Olympics include intensive PD and PR activities which operate as important indicators.

One pitfall is that early PR campaigns and Chinese head of state visits took place in 1997 (2000 PR campaign ), 2002 therefore these are only measured with Gallup poll whereas latter ones are measured with three opinion polls.

What if the measurement is affected by other variables thus cause spuriousness? As argued above the main concern is about the image of China. If the measurement is affected by other variables, It only prevents to measure the isolated effects of PR and PD campaigns therefore in any case the study gets the desired result , namely ; the final view of Chinese image.

In sum; my study contributes to the literature by emphasizing three points. Firstly; Soft power is often approached as a foreign policy strategy which excludes the internal dynamics of countries. This gap results from neglecting the society’s thought about itself as well as public attitudes towards other countries. That outlook also creates a gap to understand the sources of soft power which is mostly embodied in internal practises. Secondly; this study examines the connection between the PD, PR activities and the public opinion as an indicator of soft power. This understanding fulfils Nye’s suggestion via appropriate channels (opinion polls). Mostly; the results of public relations campaigns are examined by conductors of that campaigns (PR companies) which raise the doubts about impartiality therefore I exclude the findings of PR firms and focused on third parties’ results. Thirdly my study handles the debate not only as a political process but also as a communication process. This focus enables to understand the pillars of public diplomacy and relationship building strategy which requires genuine dialogue and symmetric channels. Thus the study emphasizes the importance of long term engagements rather than persuasion tactics.

Bearing all these in mind; my hypothesis is that; although countries do not have a total control over their images, public perception can still be affected therefore if the diplomatic and social engagement (interaction) intensifies; public perception is positively affected towards the engager.


[1] 8 April 2011, Joseph Nye; Is China overtaking America? , Al Jazeera


[3] China Daily 17March 2006

[4] February 2006, Donald Rumsfeld, a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations

[5] See Zheng Bijian (2005) China's "Peaceful Rise" to Great-Power Status, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 5, pp. 18 24

[6] See Chinese Government white papers : Full Text: China's Peaceful Development Road, The State Council Information Office, Updated: 11:09, December 22, 2005, accessed from

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China's projected image - A structured, focused comparison in the United States of America
Uppsala University  (Department of Peace and Conflict Research)
Political Science - Diplomacy
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Arda Can Çelik (Author), 2011, China's projected image - A structured, focused comparison in the United States of America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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