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Chinese diplomacy in postmodern age needs individuals

Updated: 2012-03-07 07:14
By Zhang Haizhou ( China Daily)

Eight years ago, when I was an undergraduate student studying international relations in Britain, I read a book entitled Postmodern Presidency.

The book argued that US presidents in the age of globalization are postmodern presidents. They cannot function at federal level by meeting only with world leaders or working with members of their own government; they also need to appeal to the wider population.

Well, by the same logic, it's not just the US presidency that is in a postmodern age; Chinese diplomacy is, too.

I am covering the foreign relations subcommittee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at this year's two sessions.

I initially thought that probably the vast majority, if not all of the subcommittee members would be diplomats, current or retired. But I discovered that I was wrong when I went to the gathering on Sunday morning.

Only seven out of its 39 members are current or former diplomats. The rest include news editors, one well-known painter, university professors, a retired major general from the PLA Air Force, a few heads of social organizations, and several government officials.

Of course, it also includes some influential diplomats, such as China's special representative on the Korean Peninsula issue and envoy to the Middle East.

But its composition, in general, shows that diplomacy is not a job just for diplomats in the age of globalization, the Internet, social media, and of Chinese from all walks of life going abroad.

Any individual Chinese person could be involved in diplomacy.

I did an interview with a famous Chinese classical pianist, Li Yundi, in London when he was on a month-long European tour to promote Red Piano, his latest album and first collection of Chinese music.

Li has long acted as a musical envoy, putting Chinese audiences in touch with Western classical music. For example, without his delicate touch the finer points of Chopin's works could simply have been lost to them.

But 10 years after becoming famous by playing the music of Western composers, Li is now doing a bit of role reversal, playing Chinese music to Western audiences.

"Chinese culture is as great as others. We have many great books and poems but there is only one concerto composed by the Chinese. There should be more," he said, referring to the Yellow River Piano Concerto, based on a patriotic cantata composed by Xian Xinghai in 1939.

Li said he now considers promoting Chinese music abroad, particularly piano music, his "life-long ambition".

He is not just a musical envoy. What he is doing is part of China's public diplomacy, too.

Public diplomacy has been a hot topic in recent years and it is set to be an important issue at this year's discussions in the subcommittee I cover.

Various members on Sunday had already told the media that promoting public diplomacy has been a key job of the CPPCC.

But there is one key difference between the CPPCC members and Li, who has no official imprint.

Public diplomacy can only be true if we have more ordinary people involved. It can also be more effective than official diplomacy, particularly when promoting China's soft power and improving its image abroad.

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(China Daily 03/07/2012 page8)