Stanley's blog

The following interview appeared in Global Times on 15 March 2010:

Editor’s Note:
China constantly complains of being misperceived by the West, but how much of that is China’s own fault? Do Europeans still see China through an ideological lens, or does China fail to present itself in a way acceptable in the modern world? Global Times (GT) reporter Wu Mian interviewed Stanley Crossick (Crossick), senior fellow of the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies (BICCS), on why official communication can be inefficient and on the results lobbying and careful publicity can achieve.

GT: What are the common mistakes made in China’s official communications? Why aren’t official communications effective in dealing with such matters?

Crossick: One axiom of communication is that it’s not what I say to you that matters, but what you hear me say, which is not always the same thing. There are two main weaknesses in official Chinese communications.
First, the wording is frequently inappropriate, and indeed counter-productive. The form, length and tone of official communications are often inappropriate, reading like old-fashioned propaganda.

The phraseology often contains concepts that make good sense in China but are seen as rhetorical slogans in Europe. The reaction tends to be not to take the communication seriously and for them to reinforce the unfavorable view of China already held by readers. To smooth communication, Western advisors must be used.

Second, communication must be prompt. Often, word comes from Beijing well after negative Western media coverage. Sometimes, there is no communication. Beijing needs to delegate responsibility for communicating the Chinese viewpoint to national embassies and missions. The consequences of poor communication is that it increases misunderstandings and misperceptions, and it facilitates the media making uninformed attacks on Chinese policies and actions.

GT: How can China develop an efficient lobby system in Europe? Compared with groups that support Taiwan or an independent Tibet, or press China on human rights issues, what are the disadvantages the China lobby faces? How can they improve themselves?

Crossick: Building an effective lobby presupposes an effective communications policy. Lobbying advisors should be appointed in Brussels, since only European experts can advise on how to lobby and how to communicate in Europe. It is the same logic that if I want to influence or communicate effectively in China, I need Chinese personnel to advice me.A good communications advisor is able to advise on all types of communication – to government, to parliament, to civil society and to traditional and the new media.

The groups that support Taiwan, Tibet and human rights issues are largely European and need less external advice. In the case of Taiwan, the Taipei office gives extensive financial and other support. Changing Europeans’ views of China is a long-term process, which needs to address all sectors and at all levels of society.

Increasing contacts and exchanges between think tanks, academia and students in the educational and cultural fields is essential, but needs resources that Beijing must be prepared to provide.

Erasmus Mundius, a program that aims to enhance quality in higher education through scholarships and academic cooperation between Europe and the rest of the world, is a good precedent for China. The November 2009 Nanjing China-EU summit declared 2011 the “China-EU Year of Youth.” This is a great opportunity but needs intensive planning and substantial funding. It is also important to involve the relevant stakeholders in the planning and execution: It should not be solely in the hands of the government.

GT: With the dual framework of both the EU and individual governments, lobbying in Europe can be complicated. How should Chinese lobby groups coordinate between the two?

Crossick: The Brussels advisors must have the capability of coordinating lobbying at national level, where this is necessary. Remember that “national” lobbying can also be done in Brussels.

The relationship between the EU and its member states is very complex. At the government level, the states are members of the European Council, the overall directing body, made up of the heads of government and state. Each also has a “Permanent Representation” in Brussels, which is involved in EU day-to-day work. Although members of the European Parliament sit in political groups and not by state, there is close contact between the parliamentarians and national governments and societies.

Most legislative decisions require agreement in Council between a “qualified majority” of states (voting is weighted to give bigger states more of a voice) and the European Parliament. Lobbying is mainly in Brussels but, depending on the issue, the largest states are often also lobbied in their capital cities.
The European Parliament must also be extensively lobbied. Lobbying in the EU is more complex than in the US because normally it is not necessary to lobby at state level in relation to federal legislation.

GT: In the past, when tensions between China and Europe piled up, China would send a group over to make large purchases to fix the relations. Do you think there are better ways to develop a healthier bilateral relationship?

Crossick: Big trade delegations that result in extra exports to China may influence decision-makers, but not necessarily the media or the public.

To seriously improve the relationship requires policy changes in China that are not necessarily acceptable. For instance, better market access, revaluation of the yuan, support over Iran, reducing the use of the death penalty, and increasing press and Internet freedom would all help improve China’s image overseas, especially in Europe.

European companies do not believe that they have the same free access to the Chinese market as Chinese companies in Europe. Many sectors are deemed “strategic” in China. Bureaucratic barriers make life difficult for foreign companies. The services market is far from open.

The yuan is believed to be substantially undervalued and this is regarded as contributing to the trade deficit and effectively being protectionist.

Europe and the US are deeply concerned about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. They wish to increase sanctions as all negotiations have failed. Even Russia is tending to support more sanctions.
China, on the other hand, doesn’t favor sanctions and extensively supports Iran economically through trade and investment.

The vast majority of Europeans strongly oppose the death penalty. China is not the only country which has capital punishment; many US states, for instance, use the death penalty.
However, it’s reported that more than half the world’s executions are in China. China also does not publish the numbers.

Europeans deeply believe in freedom of expression. The impression is that restrictions on the press and Internet have increased recently. It is not suggested that you allow a Western-style press, but there should be much greater freedom than now.

Shattering the existing popular stereotype of China is a long-term exercise. The more opinion formers and others spend time in China and the better the communication, the more hope there is of achieving this.
But it has to be recognized that bad news makes good news coverage; good news does not. This is why the tendency of most reportage is negative, whether about China, the EU or any other place.
Short of increasing freedom of the media, the argument will have to be that there is much less censorship than in the past.

Unfortunately, the perception is that it has increased over the last two years. In the case of the death penalty, the only possibility is to publish the figures and show that executions have been steadily decreasing in number.

Although Western companies complain about lack of access, the Chinese economy is much more open than it was, and also more open than many other countries.
Positive statistics and facts also need to be constantly repeated, such as China’s remarkable successes in alleviating poverty over the last three decades of reform.

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  1. How many people would ever read Global Times, let alone on a regular basis, in Europe? What the Chinese say is not very relevant. What is most important is what the media says what the Chinese say. Most Europeans are “educated” by the media (BBC alike) and “re-educated” on a constantly basis about China/Chinese propaganda.

  2. In this connection,

    “China has trimmed its defense budget to below a double-digit percentage rise for the first time in a decade. The limit on spending dovetails with recent talk in China of the importance of “soft power” and cultural influence abroad. The decline could also indicate trying economic times and the scale of social problems at home. Or maybe it’s all about Japan. -”

    From today’s Asiatimes.

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