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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Beijing's Olympics Public Relations

July 11, 2008

by Shen Dingli
China Stakes
July 10,2008

When Beijing was awarded the host of the 2008 Olympics on July 13,
2001, the joyful Chinese didn't expect that their road to the summer
of 2008 would be so bumpy.  This summer game has been politicized
from very beginning.

 From 2007, more international pressures have been applied upon
China, either on China's internal human rights conditions or external
behaviors.  A coalition of NGOs outside China has liaised to link
Beijing's legitimacy of hosting Olympics to its efforts to improve
the situation in Darfur.  At a late stage, the world focus shifted to
Tibet.  This in turn triggered backfire on the torch relay outside of China.

One can learn of the patterns of its public relations skills from a
responsive one to a more cooperative type in the case of Darfur
issue, and from an information censorship on Tibet riot in March to
significant transparency in media covering of Sichuan earthquake in
May.  These efforts have improved China's effectiveness to polish its
public image.

On the Darfur question, Beijing indeed was pressed by the Darfur
coalition, especially when this lobby succeeded in getting Steven
Spielberg resigning as artistic advisor to the Olympics.  While
defending China's position, Beijing has accelerated its public
diplomacy in responding to the call of promoting human rights in Darfur.

In May 2007, China set up a post of Special Representative for
African Affairs.  Ambassador Liu Guijin has conducted shuttle
diplomacy since last year.  Also, China has spent additional efforts
to have dialogue with Sudan.  President Hu Jintao personally talked
to President Omar al-Bashir during Sino-African Summit in October
2006, culminating Sudanese acceptance of joint deployment of African
Union-UN peace keeping forces.  Beijing also has increased its
efforts in reaching out, inclining to objectively introduce its work
on regional stability to the public.  In January 2008, China even
disclosed its limited arms sales to Sudan, long thought to be
sensitive.  Such transparency has not only shed light on China's
relations with Sudan, but also given credit to China's indispensable
role in helping resolve Darfur disaster.

Lately there has been much less media headline question concerning
China's role in this regard.  There is a feel of "reluctant
cooperation" in the West in regard to China's response to external
pressures, but China's cooperation has after all addressed the
Western concern and has been better received.  China's more or less
successful public relations work to explain its policy with solid
facts has helped to mend its image.

Then, on March 10, 2008, the anniversary of Tibetan armed rebellion
of 1959, Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, witnessed another riot
that escalated to rampant disruption of social order and assault on
pedestrians and armed polices, robbing and burning of street shops
and shop assistants.  It seems that in handling social order in
minority-dominant regions, Chinese government has been rather
sensitive and cautious.  This is perhaps a reflection of the
government's sensitivities to its image in conducting rule of law
before the world community.

China's unwillingness to allow foreigners to access when the
government is defending its law has presented another serious lesson
to its public relations.  At the time of riot, international tourists
in Lhasa were required or persuaded to leave the city, on the ground
to protect them.  Virtually this did little help in bringing
credibility of government provision of news coverage of the
event.  Even in the best case that all news provided by Xinhua News
Agency has been comprehensive and unbiased, it still may not be
viewed as credible enough by quite some of the western readers.

Therefore, a Chinese legitimate action to defend social order has
been ill received in some of the western countries.  The torch relay
of Beijing Olympics has met a number of oppositions.  China's
inexpert relations with the western journalism, as well as its
immature perception of the role the western journalists can and shall
play objectively and constructively in covering such events, have
also not rendered its credentials in covering the same events fairly.

Nevertheless, Beijing draws the lessons and quickly improves in the
subsequent episodes.  In covering torch relay to the summit of the
Himalaya on May 8, and in responding to the tragic earthquake on May
12, Chinese government has made dramatic change by responding in the
first place and providing significant amount of transparency,
including extending basically equal rights to cover the event by
foreign journalists.  This change is well received in the world.

Through this event, those criticisms on China's performance over
Darfur and Tibet have much receded.  Instead, the same western media
that used to be harsh has turn to respect Chinese government's
responsible action in saving its people and Chinese patriotism and
cohesiveness.  In learning the lessons Chinese side has grown, in
both presenting its successful stories and in allowing foreigners to
cover as well on site.  Pondering the essence of public relations,
China is now better prepared for the moment of August 8, 2008.
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