Explaining China on China’s Terms, in China
Regardless of whether China’s relative lack of international discourse power is attributed to the dominance of Western discourse power or to China’s failure to win international influence, proposals are unified by the implication that China should be explained on China’s terms. Ling Shengli takes this point literally, arguing for an expansion of China’s practice of "home field diplomacy (主场外交)" (referring to the hosting of bilateral and multilateral summits in China).8 Indeed, Ling says that "by conducting home field diplomacy, China can enhance its international voice, increase its participation and shaping of the international system, and optimize its own international image." "Home field diplomacy" is recognized as an official precept of the Chinese foreign policy establishment, having first been referenced by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in 2014, with its roots ultimately traced back at least as far as the beginning of the Reform and Opening period. Since 2014, China has expended great effort and expense on strengthening its home field diplomacy, hosting multilateral fora such as the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Ling argues that through such events, China will "build a stage to sing on its own (搭台唱戏)".
However, there is already a large number of events taking place in China. The problem has less to do with building a platform for China to explain itself, and more to do with getting others to listen to China’s side of the story. The regalia of events such as the Bo’ao Forum must be matched with a credible voice, a point that Sun and Zhang recognize indirectly, given their respective advocacy for enhanced diplomatic training and broadened international academic outreach.
Setting the International Agenda
While many of the suggestions amount to doubling down on past practices, there is clarity about why China should seek to increase its international discourse power. Zuo Fengrong and Liu Yong argue that greater discourse power will allow China "to set the agenda, establish rules and standards, and win the approval and acceptance of other countries." For Sun Jisheng, the ability to set the agenda will allow "China to put forward issues that matter to China." By emphasizing China’s domestic successes and international contributions, and diverting attention away from controversial aspects of Chinese state behavior, it can secure more international support and leverage the international community towards its strategic interests. This would approximate the American approach to international discourse power in the post-war period. Zuo and Liu, as well as Sun Jisheng, assess that the Trump Administration’s inclination to withdraw from international organizations and agreements offers a window for China to increase its international (and particularly institutional) discourse power. According to Sun "after the US withdrawals, China has become the backbone" of a number of international organizations. Therefore, in pursuing international discourse power, it may be in the interests of Chinese authorities not to seek to reshape the international arena through initiatives such as "home field diplomacy", and instead simply to wait for suitable geopolitical conditions to emerge. The contrast in the fortunes of China and the United States in fighting Covid-19 is just one example of how windows of opportunity for the advancement of China’s international discourse power can happen.
1 Xinhua, "Grasp International Discourse Power, Effectively Broadcast China’s Voice – A Theoretical Discussion of Xi Jinping’s Thinking on Overseas Propaganda (把握国际话语权 有效传播中国声音——习近平外宣工作思路理念探析), Xinhuanet.com, 6 April 2016.
2 Sun Jisheng "Theory, Mechanisms, Strength: Revisiting the Strengthening of Chinese Diplomacy Research (理论、机制、能力：加强中国外交研究的思考), Pacific Journal, 2 June 2020.
3 Sun Jisheng, "Revisiting Chinese Diplomacy and International Discourse Power (中国外交与国际话语权提升的再思考)", Journal of the Central Institute of Socialism, 27 May 2020.
4 Zhang Zhanbin, "Turning China’s Development Superiority into a Discourse Power Advantage (把中国的发展优势转化为国际话语优势)", Study Times, 25 May 2020.
5 Li Qiang, "China’s International Discourse Power: Evolutionary Logic, Construction Dimensions, and Pragmatic Challenges (中国国际话语权：演进逻辑、构建维度与现实挑战)", Journal of the Central Institute of Socialism, No. 2, 2020.
6 Feng Shizheng & Wei Qingong, "The Imagination, Localization, and Discourse Power of Chinese Sociology (中国社会学的想象力、本土化与话语权), The Journal of Jiangsu Administration Institute, No. 5, 2019.
7 Zuo Fenrong & Liu Yong, "How Developed Countries Seek Discourse Power (发达国家怎么谋求话语权)", Beijing Daily, 29 February 2020.
8 Ling Shengli, "Home Field Diplomacy, Strategic Capacity, and Global Governance (主场外交、战略能力与全球治理), Foreign Affairs Review, No. 4, 2019.
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