Rethinking China’s public diplomacy with Africa — The Foreign Aid Youth Volunteers Program as a case study
[This article was co-written by Wang Xiaozhi, a professor of international relations at Peking University, Huang Lizhi, a PhD student in the department of international relations at Peking University and Liu Haifang, the deputy director of the Africa Research Center at Peking University, and was originally published in the third 2012 issue of the Chinese international relations journal Contemporary World (http://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-JSDD201203011.htm).]
Clear progress has been made in China-Africa relations over the past decade or so, driven by economic cooperation. Similarly, the mutual support and friendly relations that China has had with African countries for over half a century are now evolving into “all-round strategic partnerships.”
“China-Africa relations” became the world’s most popular phrase seemingly overnight from about 2006, drawing concern from across the globe. Compared to the disproportionate attention paid to the phenomenon by people from other parts of the world, however, Chinese and African publics have paid scant attention to China-Africa relations.
Public diplomacy is critical for Chinese and African governments, otherwise Chinese and African publics will continue to understand each other and China-Africa relations only through the lens of people who are not Chinese or African. This would lead to greater damage from ill-intentioned, delusional, misleading and deceptive opinions and statements.
As a field that has emerged within diplomacy in recent years, public diplomacy is more flexible and contains more potential for creativity compared to traditional diplomacy.
In particular, young people can accomplish a great deal in the field of public diplomacy. Some of the public diplomacy initiatives that include young people that the Chinese government has embarked upon recently include the China-Africa Young Leaders Forum, the China-Africa Youth Festival and a project to have 500 African young people visit China.
If we may criticize the exaggeration of the successes of these programs, which are too short and superficial, then sending Chinese youth volunteers to live in Africa presents a way to overcome these shortcomings and make young people more realistic and more influential public diplomats.
Youth volunteers can help to fine-tune China’s extensive aid to Africa, create new modes of cooperation between China and Africa and give new connotations to the aid that China gives to Africa.
This would make it easier for China to gain the attention and support of publics in the target countries. As such, the youth volunteer program has far-reaching significance and still has large room for improvement.
The Chinese government sent 364 youth volunteers to African countries between 2005 — when the first group of Chinese youth volunteers went to Africa — until the end of 2011.
We have conducted in-depth research into the operation and implementation of the Foreign Aid Youth Volunteers program. This article summarizes this research in case study form in order to facilitate a rethinking of the role, results and existing problems of China’s public diplomacy in Africa.
The Foreign Aid Youth Volunteers Program shows that the roles of the various ministries in public diplomacy has not been clarified
The government organs that are mainly involved in running the Foreign Aid Youth Volunteers Program include the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China.
Our research shows that the different decision makers and policy implementers involved in the program have different understandings of the role of youth volunteers in public diplomacy.
Chinese volunteers who go to Africa have three main goals: First, they are cultural ambassadors responsible for disseminating the core values of China’s culture. Second, they are disseminators of useful knowledge and practical techniques. Third, they are responsible for promoting good relations between China and the country they go to.
These three goals are obvious and bey.
Tendai Musakwa, The China Africa Project <email@example.com>