Remarks at the Seminar on New China’s People-to-people Diplomacy

By Wu Hailong

As a practitioner of China's diplomatic thoughts and former President of CPIFA, I find it a great honor to speak here at today's seminar commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Institute.

People-to-people diplomacy makes up a pivotal part in China's diplomacy. Its theory emerged and developed against a complicated international background after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The people-to-people diplomacy is a pioneering undertaking of New China's diplomacy with distinctive Chinese characteristics and features of the times.

Americans first put forward the notion of public diplomacy in the 1960s, whereas the thought on people-to-people diplomacy came about in China in 1949. The establishment of the CPIFA in December 1949 marked the beginning of people-to-people diplomacy in China.

People-to-people diplomacy, non-governmental diplomacy or public diplomacy, is unique in its flexibility, thus becomes an important supplement to official diplomacy. At the beginning of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it was challenged by imperialist blockade and containment. Only 10 countries established diplomatic ties with China in 1949. The number rose to merely 18 in the 1950s. Hence a lot of diplomatic work remained to be carried out through non-governmental diplomacy. Under such circumstances, how to break through the blockade and containment imposed by imperialist countries, forge friendly relations with peoples around the world, establish the position of New China on the international stage, and win wide recognition around the globe? Apparently, official diplomacy was not enough, and non-governmental organizations and channels were needed to bring into play the role of people-to-people diplomacy. This was how people-to-people diplomacy emerged.

The Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (set up in December 1949), the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (founded in 1954 and then named the Chinese People's Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) and other such organizations played a vital part in developing and cementing friendship with other peoples, and assisting and promoting the establishment of relations with Western countries, including developed countries.

Over the past 70 years since the People's Republic of China was founded, particularly the 40 years since the start of Reform and Opening-up, the thoughts, theories, and practice of people-to-people diplomacy have kept developing. People-to-people diplomacy has made significant contributions to advancing China’s reform, opening-up and growth, increasing the mutual understanding with other nations, and enlarging our circle of friends.

The world is undergoing changes unseen in a century; meanwhile, China is faced with unprecedented opportunities and challenges. Every single move of China bears upon the world and its relationship with the world. While the world is rediscovering China, praisers and admirers abound, so do misconceivers, skeptics and defamers. As an old Chinese saying goes, those that stand out tend to cause jealousy. At such a moment, the key task of people-to-people diplomacy is to tell China stories properly, make China's voice heard, present an authentic and vivid China, shatter false beliefs and distinguish the right from the wrong, ensure correct understandings, establish a good image of China on the international stage, facilitate people-to-people connectivity and affinity, so as to create an favorable and friendly international environment for the achievement of the two centenary goals. People-to-people diplomacy shall closely focus on the central tasks of China's overall diplomacy, cooperate with the country’s major diplomatic moves, and exert full efforts in contributing to the big picture of China's diplomatic work.

People-to-people diplomacy shall mobilize and coordinate resources on all fronts, bringing into full play the role of think-tanks, media, the academia, business community, influential government officials and local professional institutes. Recently, I visited Shanghai and Hangzhou to study how public diplomacy was carried out at the local level. I used to doubt about the comment of Zhao Qizheng (former Director of the State Council Information Office) that the real strength of public diplomacy lies in the people. After my visit, I’m convinced of the power of public diplomacy and deeply believed in what he said. A lot can be done in public diplomacy by making full use of non-governmental connections. That's why people-to-people diplomacy should engage diverse resources and forces for synergy and better effects.

Innovation in approaches and means is also a must to adapt to the highly-advanced information-based society. A multitude of communication means and platforms shall be employed to diversify communication approaches and methods.

We shall value the development of theory and practice on people-to-people diplomacy to enrich its content. Over the past 70 years, a lot of good experience, examples and practice have been accumulated across different periods. We shall advance the theory on people-to-people diplomacy based on successful practices, and adopt the theory in the future practice of people-to-people diplomacy.

In short, the most important factor in people-to-people diplomacy is still people. We must have a large pool of talents, that should well know both China and the world, specialized in both policies and expertise, and be fluent in both Chinese and foreign languages. In severe lack of such talents, it’s urgent to deliver a great number of professionals good at publicity, languages and communication. This is imperative if we are to undertake people-to-people diplomacy and go global.

People-to-people diplomacy requires persistence. We need to make unremitting efforts for months, for years, or even for generations, so as to achieve people-to-people understanding, affinity and friendship that last long.

In a word, people-to-people diplomacy in the New Era is an arduous task and a promising undertaking. The China Public Diplomacy Association is ready to join hands with the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and all other organizations that work on people-to-people diplomacy, support and collaborate with each other, and break new grounds in the field of people-to-people diplomacy under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.

Wu Hailong is President of the China Public Diplomacy Association and Former President of CPIFA.