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The Task of Winning Hearts and Minds Abroad: Chinese Public Diplomacy in Kazakhstan


hinese public diplomacy cannot be detached from its rapid economic development and shifts in its international position. China has become the second largest economy in the world and is actively engaging in regional and world affairs. At the same time, this has raised various concerns about China’s intentions and its growing infl uence in different parts of the world. Among them, Kazakhstan was not an exception, considering the alarmist and sinophobic sentiments that became increasingly apparent within its society in recent years. Therefore, China actively seeks to convince Kazakhstani public of its benign intentions and stresses that China and Kazakhstan should make efforts in promoting people-to-people friendship. Thus, the following questions arise: how is Chinese public diplomacy being practiced in Kazakhstan? What kind of tools does China use to implement it? In order to answer these questions it is necessary to look at the causes that gave rise for the practice of Chinese public diplomacy, namely the “China threat” concept.

The article begins with the discussion of the emergence of “China threat” concept and its effect in triggering the practice of Chinese public diplomacy worldwide. It analyzes the theoretical notion of public diplomacy and how it is being practiced by China nowadays. The article then turns to the analysis of how China is promoting its public diplomacy in Kazakhstan in particular.

The “China Threat” Concept and the Need for Public DiplomacyAs China continued to grow during the decades that followed after its economic reforms in late 1970s, various international relations theories offered competing views and explanations on the future behavior of China in the international arena. Among them, a concept of “China threat” had emerged in 1990s and neorealism particularly, offensive realism took a major stance in theorizing it. According to offensive realism, states operate in an anarchic world in which there is no high authority that is capable of enforcing the rules and regulating the affairs among states. In such a world, every state has an offensive intentions and their ultimate goal is to become a hegemon in its regional affairs. [1] As John Mearsheimer — the main proponent of offensive realism — argues, China’s rise will not be peaceful, since China will seek to maximize the power gap between itself and neighboring countries, so that it will become powerful enough that no one state will undermine its supremacy. [2] Another theory that predicts future destabilizing effects of China’s rise is the hegemonic stability theory, according to which a dominant state will be confronted with a rising challenger. It posits that this will bring disequilibrium to the international system since the rising challenger will try to change the rules of the existing international system. This, in turn, will lead to the dominant state’s attempts to counter the challenge; otherwise it will cause a hegemonic war (e.g. Sparta and Athens in Peloponnesian war, the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War). [3] Thus, the hegemonic stability theory sees the rise of China as the rising challenger to the existing international system. Furthermore, according to Aaron Friedberg, there is a chance of a future confl ict in Asia, considering the early stages of development towards democracy in Asian countries, Asian loose institutional ties, and diversity. [4] Thus, this argument also associates the growing role of China with future instabilities in the region.

If we take a look at developing China, one can draw the parallels with the above mentioned theories. China has been growing over three decades now and has been able to become the second largest economy in the world. It gave China enough confi dence to be engaged in regional economic affairs as it did during the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) by bailing out the troubled economies of South East Asian countries. Moreover, China has been actively investing in Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia in order to secure the needed resources for further economic development. After all, China is a rising one-party communist state with increasing military expenditure and ambition for modernization.

Therefore, in order to convince the world that China is a rising peace to the existing international order, the Chinese leadership had to respond by elaborating variety of concepts both in the academia and in practice. In practice, the concepts of “peaceful rise” (heping jueqi) and “harmonious world” (hexie shijie) became the major determinants of Chinese foreign policy in recent years. In April 2005 at the Asia-African Summit Meeting, Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a speech in which he used the term “harmonious world” for the fi rst time. [5] In September of the same year at the UN Summit, Hu Jintao again focused on the concept of harmonious world that calls for the creation of the “new security concept of mutual trust, equality, and collaboration”. [6] As Chao and Hsu argue, the concept of harmonious world was elaborated to partly downplay the “China threat” concept in international community. [7]

On the one hand, the main practical idea of the concept of harmonious world is that the purpose of creating a common security, is peace and it can be attained through a multilateral mechanism such as the United Nations. On the other hand, the main theoretical idea of harmonious world is derived from Confucianism which emphasizes the ideals of harmony within a given society based on the morality and ethics of human beings. It assumes that every human being has its particular position and duties (e.g. being a good ruler, good parents, or a good child, etc.) within a society, and as long as they act in accordance with them and Confucius rites, the harmonious society will be achieved. [8] By this, China is trying to convince the world that by becoming a responsible great power which is actively engaging in regional affairs, China does not intend to change the existing international order.

Thereby, the concept of “China threat” caused the Chinese leadership to elaborate the tools of convincing the foreign audiences of China’s benign intentions and improving China’s image. Consequently, the notion of public diplomacy has emerged as the main tool in advancing China’s image abroad and currently is being paid major attention both among Chinese scholars and practitioners.

Public Diplomacy: A Theoretical Discussion

The term public diplomacy is relatively new concept and is quite ambiguous. It was fi rst adopted in the US in the 1970s to refer to the US government’s international information, cultural relations, and broadcasting activity. [9] J. Nye argues that “public diplomacy is an instrument that governments use to mobilize the resources [that produce soft power[24]] to communicate with and attract the publics of other countries rather than merely their governments”. [10] According to N. J. Cull, public diplomacy is the process by which international actors seek to accomplish the goal of their foreign policy by engaging with foreign publics and it consists of major fi ve components: listening (responding to the shifts in international opinion), advocacy (promoting a particular policy, idea, or interests in foreign public), cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy and international broadcasting. [11] Furthermore, public diplomacy is also defi ned as “the process by which direct relations are pursued with a country’s people to advance the interests and extend the values of those being represented”. [12] Thereby, the main difference between traditional and public diplomacy is that the former is the relationship between the representatives of states, while the latter focuses on the general public abroad and specifi cally on non-offi cial groups and individuals. [13]

The Chinese understanding of public diplomacy (gonggong waijiao) refers to advertizing Chinese achievements and boosting China’s image abroad. [14] Moreover, it attempts to change the international view of China and attempts to go beyond the traditional diplomacy. [15] Nevertheless, the Chinese public diplomacy is not a new phenomenon. According to N. Cull, contemporary Chinese public diplomacy has its roots in three basic points. First is the traditional Chinese concern with the notion of image in all relationships, as the Chinese traditionally emphasize the value of the personal image (mianzi, literal meaning is “face”) as a concept of social prestige. Therefore, public diplomacy can be seen as the extension of this concept to the international realm. The second one entails the history of external propaganda practiced by a communist regime, since Mao Zedong’s regime sought to spread an external propaganda (dui wai xuan chuan) in so-called the “third world” countries such as South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America by becoming the unoffi cial leader of non-aligned movement in 1950s. The third point refers to the realization of the role of public diplomacy during the post-Mao period in which its major agencies and institutions were built. [16]

Chinese Public Diplomacy in Action

Since 2007, Chinese government has been focusing on soft power and its major tool — public diplomacy — as one of the dimensions of its foreign policy. In October of 2007, at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Hu Jintao called for enhancing the Chinese culture as country’s “soft power”. [17] To that end, he stressed the role of public diplomacy as the major method of promoting China’s soft power. According to K. Zhan, Chinese public diplomacy pursues fi ve main objectives: 1) publicizing the Chinese government’s statements to the outside world; 2) forming a desirable image of China; 3) issuing rebuttals to distorted overseas reports about China; 4) improving international environment surrounding China; 5) exerting infl uence on the policy decisions of foreign countries. [18]

In March of 2004, China established the Division of Public Diplomacy under the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there are other multiple agencies which are responsible for coordinating the practices of Chinese public diplomacy abroad. These include Information Offi ce under the State Council and Foreign Affairs Department, which is in charge of media diplomacy, Ministry of Culture which focuses on cultural diplomacy, the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) which operates in the fi eld of party-to-party diplomacy, the Offi ce of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) which is in charge of establishing the Confucius Institutes around the world. [19]

Chinese public diplomacy practice mainly includes cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy, and international broadcasting. Among them, the Chinese cultural diplomacy is directed towards demonstrating to the foreign public the Chinese culture, values, history and thereby, gaining the admirers. As Hu Jintao announced in 2003 that “Chinese culture belongs not only to the Chinese but also to the whole world” thus, it clearly shows China’s ambitions.[25] The great example of Chinese cultural diplomacy is the establishment of Confucius Institutes around the world. In 2006 Chinese government initially aimed to set up 100 Confucius Institutes in different parts of the world within fi ve years. Chinese government has achieved this target, since the number of Confucius Institutes in December 2007 constituted 210 institutes operating in 64 countries. The fi rst Confucius Institute was established in Seoul in November 2004. [20]

In 2011, the number of Confucius Institutes has risen to 353 in 104 countries around the world. [21]

China is practicing the exchange diplomacy as well by taking part in mutual educational and cultural exchanges. The major Chinese institution that provides the people-to-people exchanges is the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Education expected more than 120,000 foreign students enrolling in Chinese Universities by 2008. [21] By 2012 it was announced that a total of 328,330 international students were studying in China.[26]

China also has been paying attention to its international broadcasting activity by establishing radio and television channels in English. In 2000, Chinese Central Television (CCTV) set up a channel 9 in English for foreign audiences and moreover, it has expanded into other languages such as Russian, Spanish, French, Arabic. By the same token, China Radio International broadcasts programs in English and plays a signifi cant role in promoting a favorable image of China abroad.

Next we turn our attention to how the above described components of Chinese public diplomacy are being practiced in Kazakhstan nowadays.

Chinese Public Diplomacy in Kazakhstan

Why would China be concerned about promoting its positive image and practicing public diplomacy in Kazakhstan particularly? Firstly, Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country and it is vital for China’s interests in the region particularly, in fi ghting the “three evils” — extremism, separatism, and terrorism. Secondly, Kazakhstan is one of the main sources of Chinese energy consumption. And yet, Kazakhstan is the country where alarmist and sinophobic sentiments are present when it comes to the issues of migration, bilateral trade (e.g. Kazakhstan accounts for 63% of China’s trade with the Central Asian countries) and also as China continues to purchase the shares of major western companies operating in Kazakhstan.[27] In this regard, a Kazakhstani sinologist K.Syroezhkin argues that the Kazakhstani public lacks the knowledge about the real China and Chinese people, hence they tend to believe and develop various kinds of stereotypes, myths and even phobia regarding the growing infl uence and presence of China in Kazakhstan and in Central Asia as a whole. (see Diagram 1) [22] In the meantime, Chinese think tank is also aware of the situation in Kazakhstan, namely how the general Kazakhstani public perceives China, thus, it also acknowledges that there is a lack of knowledge on real China and its intentions. Therefore, nowhere else in Central Asian region China seeks to practice its public diplomacy than in Kazakhstan.

As it has been discussed above, the main components of Chinese public diplomacy — cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy, and international broadcasting — are being used in advancing the positive image of China in Kazakhstan as well as in different parts of the world. (see Table 1) Further we will take a closer look at them.

Cultural diplomacy. The main channel for practicing Chinese cultural diplomacy abroad is the Confucius Institutes established worldwide. It is a non- profi t public organization affi liated with Chinese Ministry of Education and operates in collaboration with the local universities of a hosting country. The main mission of the Confucius Institute is “to provide Chinese language and cultural teaching resources in order to promote Chinese language internationally”. [23]

Currently, there are four Confucius Institutes operating in Kazakhstan. The fi rst of them was set up in December of 2007 in Astana jointly with the Eurasian National University.[28] This was followed by the establishment of the second Confucius Institute in Almaty at the Kazakh National University named after Al-Farabi in February 2009.[29] Moreover, as the Chinese noticed the increased interest in learning Chinese language and culture among students in Kazakhstan, the third Confucius

Institute has been set up in June 2011 in the western in Karaganda at the Karaganda State Technical city of Aktobe. And the fourth one was established University in November 2012.*


Specifi c activities

Cultural Diplomacy

Various cultural and social activities within the Confucius Institutes and courses of Chinese language and culture

Exchange Diplomacy

Exchange of students; mostly, Kazakhstani students receive Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) education grants annually

International Broadcasting/ Media

Few number Chinese press and news agencies (e.g.“Xinhua” news agency and “People’s Daily” (Renmin Ribao) and Guangming Daily, and China Radio International)

Table 1. Key Components of Chinese Public Diplomacy in Kazakhstan

Confucius Institutes in Kazakhstan focus on teaching Chinese language and introducing Chinese culture and history to the Kazakhstani students. The Confucius Institute students are

mainly composed of undergraduate and graduate students, middle school students, offi cials, and other social members. Confucius Institutes organize various cultural activities such as Chinese


calligraphy contest, ancient Chinese classical poems contest, fragments of Beijing opera and Chinese painting and hold the preliminary contest for the “Chinese Bridge” (Chinese profi ciency contest for foreign students). Moreover, Confucius Institutes seek to assist in the preparation of local teachers of the Chinese language and provide the consulting services for those willing to study in China. [24]

Apart from the Confucius Institutes, the Chinese Language Learning Center has been established in Astana in 2013 as the part of the Chinese department of the Eurasian National University. This center is aimed at training the specialists of Chinese language, since Kazakhstani students show an increasing interest in studying Chinese language. [25]

Although the Confucius Institutes are the main vehicle to practice Chinese cultural diplomacy abroad, China is using non-traditional actors as well in engaging with foreign public. For instance, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) attempts to implement the cultural activities in Kazakhstan in order to boost the positive image of China and demonstrate the Chinese culture. To that end, CNPC and the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan are to sign the “Memorandum of Establishing Folk Dance and Ballet Academy in Astana”. [26]

Exchange diplomacy. Chinese public diplomacy also rests on the people-to-people diplomacy in its task of winning hearts and minds abroad. China-Kazakhstan exchange diplomacy has been developing vigorously and rapidly in the last decade as China increased the number of annual scholarships to Kazakhstani students starting from 2009 up to 100 students.[30] For the sake of comparison, in 2003-2004 academic year, only 20 Kazakhstani students obtained educational grants in China under the student exchange program. According to Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan Le Yucheng, currently, the number of Kazakhstani students studying in China has reached 9500 while more than 1700 Chinese students are studying in Kazakhstan. [27] For instance, in 2009-2010 academic year, China provided 76 scholarships to the students of Kazakhstan (75 — based on the bilateral agreement, 1 — according to the agreement within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — SCO), while Kazakhstan accepted 618 students from China. [28]

It is important to note that Xi Jinping’s 10-day offi cial tour to Central Asian countries during 3–13 September 2013 has been the major indicator of China’s increasing practice of public diplomacy particularly, exchange diplomacy, as in his speech at Nazarbayev University, the Chinese president highlighted that the two countries should further strengthen people-to-people exchanges. During his visit, Xi Jinping announced a 10-year plan to provide 30 thousand government scholarships to the member countries of SCO including Kazakhstan, to study at Chinese universities. Moreover, China is intending to invite 10 thousand teachers and students from the Confucius Institutes to visit China for study and training within the mentioned time frame. By the same token, Chinese President personally invited 200 teachers and students from the Nazarbayev University to visit China for a summer camp in 2014. [29]

International Broadcasting/Media. One of the main channels that a country can use in developing its public diplomacy is certainly the international broadcasting or media. As was mentioned above, China has been investing in developing its international broadcasting network in foreign languages. There are some Chinese media agencies that operate within the territory of Kazakhstan such as “Xinhua” news agency and the foreign issues of “People’s Daily” (Renmin Ribao) and Guangming Daily, and China Radio International. [30] However, China has not been very successful in developing its international broadcasting and media within the individual countries including Kazakhstan. According to Y. Wang, this is so largely because Chinese culture is highly developed, while its media is still not globally integrated.[31]


This paper was set out to explore and evaluate current Chinese public diplomacy in Kazakhstan. It argues that Kazakhstan as the largest and crucial neighboring country in Central Asia represents itself as the potential place for China to promote its public diplomacy.

It is important to note, that if we follow J. Nye’s defi nition of public diplomacy which emphasizes that the public diplomacy is mainly practiced in order to attract the foreign public, the question of whether the Chinese public diplomacy has been successful in attracting the Kazakhstani audience and weakening the sinophobic sentiments there, remains an open topic for future research and discussion. What we can surely conclude is that China is actively broadening its components of public diplomacy in Kazakhstan, namely by increasing the number of annual scholarships and establishing more Confucius Institutes and enhancing people-to- people exchange diplomacy. Moreover, if we follow N. J. Cull’s defi nition of public diplomacy which, in turn, stresses that by using the public diplomacy the international actors seek to accomplish their foreign policy goals, then in the long term perspective, the Chinese public diplomacy may not be appealing to the countries where it is being practiced.



  1. Mearsheimer J., The Tragedy of Great Power Politics — New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2001. — P.
  2. Mearsheimer J., Why China’s Rise Will Not Be Peaceful, 2004 // http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/A0034b.pdf
  3. Gilpin R., War and Change in World Politics — Cambridge University Press, 1981. — P.186-187.
  4. Friedberg A., Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in Multipolar Asia // International Security, Vol.18, No. 3, 1993-1994. — P. 15-27.
  5. Chao Ch. and Hsu Ch., The World View of Chinese Leadership and Sino-U.S. Relations, in: Zhao S., China and the United States: Cooperation and Competition in Northeast Asia — New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. — P.87.
  6. “Hu Jintao Delivers an Important Speech at the UN Summit”, 2005.09.16 // Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN // http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/ceun/eng/zt/shnh60/t212614.htm
  7. Chao Ch. and Hsu Ch., The World View of Chinese Leadership and Sino-U.S. Relations, in: Zhao S., China and the United States: Cooperation and Competition in Northeast Asia — New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. — P.85.
  8. Li Ch., The Confucian Ideal of Harmony // Philosophy East and West, Vol.56, No.4, 2006. — P. 588.
  9. Gregory B., Public Diplomacy: Sunrise of an Academic Field// Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P.275.
  10. Nye J.S., Public Diplomacy and Soft Power // Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P. 95.
  11. Cull N. J., Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories // Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P. 31-32.
  12. Sharp P., Revolutionary States, Outlaw Regimes and the Techniques of Public Diplomacy, in Jan Melissen (ed.) The New Public Diplomacy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. — P. 106.
  13. Melissen J., The New Public Diplomacy: Between Theory and Practice, in Jan Melissen (ed.) The New Public Diplomacy, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. — P.5.
  14. Wang Y., Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power // Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P. 259.
  15. As cited in Wang Y., Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power // Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P. 263.
  16. Cull N.J., The Public Diplomacy of the Modern Olympic Games and China’s Soft Power Strategy, in Price M. and Dayan D. (ed.), Owing the Olympics: Narratives of the New China, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. — P. 126-128.
  17. “Hu Jintao Calls for Enhancing ‘Soft Power’ of Chinese Cul- ture”// http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-10/15/content_6883748. htm
  18. Wang Y., Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power // Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.616, 2008. — P.268.
  19. Ibid. — P. 264-265.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), http://english. hanban.org/node_7716.htm
  22. Kurlantzick J., “Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World”, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 118.
  23. Syroezhkin K., Kazakhstan — Kitai: Ot Prigranichnoi Torgovli k Strategicheskomu Partnerstvu, Book 2, Almaty: KazISS, 2010, P. 311.
  24. Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) // http://english. hanban.org/
  25. Confucius Institute of Kazakhstan Al-Farabi National University // http://english.hanban.org/confuciousinstitutes/node_10803.htm
  26. Kazakhstan Opens 1st Chinese Learning Center, CCTV News, 03.05.2013 // http://english.cntv.cn/program/cultureex- press/20130315/103344.shtml
  27. Speech by Ambassador to Kazakhstan Le Yucheng at the Symposium with Foreign Diplomatic Envoys to Kazakhstan Held by Kazakh Minister of Education and Science // http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zwjg/ zwbd/t1108630.shtml
  28. Ibid.
  29. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, http://www.edu.gov.kz/ru/dejatelnost/mezhdunarodnoe_sotrud- nichestvo/strany_partnery_v_oblasti_obrazovanija/ 08.03.2014
  30. Kurmanov B., China Goes West, to Kazakhstan’s Benefi t // East Asia Forum, 2013.09.27// http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/09/27/ china-goes-west-to-kazakhstans-benefi t/
  31. Izimov P/ “Myagkaya Sila” Kitaya: Na Pritsele Tsentralnaya Aziya // http://www.radiotochka.kz/news/full/1592.html

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International relations



Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics.[

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Technical science