Symposium Reports

The Age of Public Diplomacy: Soft Power Game in East Asia

Politics Culture

The third session of the symposium focused on public diplomacy in East Asia, particularly the increasing tension that marks Japan’s relations with China and South Korea as well as each country’s public diplomacy efforts. The session was moderated by Kondō Motohiro, former editor-in-chief of Chūō Kōron.

Three Styles of Public Diplomacy: Japan, Korea, and China

The third panel discussion of the symposium featured the keynote speaker, Kent Calder; Kobe International University Professor Mao Danqing; and Hitotsubashi University Associate Professor Kwong Yongseok; as well as Ogoura Kazuo and Watanabe Yasushi from the second session.

The discussion began with short presentations by Mao and Kwong on the theme of public diplomacy with regard to their respective countries, China and South Korea.

Mao talked about his experiences editing Zhiri (Know Japan), a magazine that aims to present Japanese culture to Chinese readers; it was launched in 2011, at the height of anti-Japanese sentiment in China. Mao explained how the magazine was started:

“In creating Zhiri, we did not receive any financial support from the government of Japan or from Japanese companies. It was very much a ‘wild’ undertaking. Among Chinese at the time, in spite of the anti-Japanese demonstrations, there were those who wanted to find out more about Japan. We created a magazine to meet this market need. The magazine had no foreign-policy agenda; it was purely a business proposition. And this is precisely why the magazine included the sort of content that even Japanese people tend to overlook.” 

Next, Kwong explained how South Korea is aiming, through its public diplomacy, to be the world’s best-loved country. There has been a concerted effort, spearheaded by the government, to promote Korean TV dramas and K-pop music globally, but the country is also launching a whole host of public-diplomacy projects on the basis of government funding, which for fiscal 2014 under the Park Geun-hye administration is roughly 50% higher than the previous year, at 9 billion won (approximately ¥870 million).

“In the case of South Korea, there is still the problem, I think, of a narcissistic tendency. No matter how much effort is channeled toward diplomacy, unless the people of the country themselves have a certain appeal, the country itself will not be seen as appealing by others. Up to now, South Korea has had a certain egocentric side, while on the other side there has been the aspect of trying to promote the country's culture abroad. I think a transition needs to be made toward learning more about other cultures and trying to convey positive feelings toward other nations.”

Kobe International University Professor Mao Danqing (left) and Hitotsubashi University Associate Professor Kwong Yongseok during their presentations.

After those two short presentations, Ogoura said a word about the “mismatches” between the respective public diplomacy of Japan, China, and South Korea. He noted how the explosive popularity of Korean pop culture in Japan has faded as conflicting historical awareness came to the fore, and that the efforts of those like Professor Mao could be diminished by the actions of others. Even though the ties of trade, tourism, and scholarship between the countries have risen formidably, and shared knowledge has increased, this material interaction and increase in knowledge has not led to more favorable views of each other.

This stems from the fact that many citizens of the three countries are infected by what might be called “national sentiment,” Ogoura noted. Politicians do not enter into negotiations to improve relations, citing that national sentiment; and the media, too, has launched into reporting that fosters a dislike of China and South Korea on that same basis of national sentiment. Even intellectuals are infected by this mood, to the point where they are not willing to say what must be said. All of these players are citing “national sentiment” even though they are the very ones who influence that sentiment.

Calder joined in the discussion at that point, noting that the US government has become seriously concerned about the friction between the three countries.

Former Japan Foundation Chairman Ogoura Kazuo (left) and the director of John Hopkins University’s Center for East Asian Studies, Kent Calder.

Beneficial Aspects of Public Diplomacy

Watanabe also joined the discussion, offering his suggestion that even though the ties at the governmental level are frayed between the three countries, it is possible through ties in such areas as sports, culture, and art to deepen relations in a way that is not possible in the political realm. He was hopeful that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could make a positive contribution in this sense, and posed the question of whether such public diplomacy might help to alleviate the problems related to territorial disputes and differing views of history.

Mao referred to the comment made by Ogoura in the second session about the need for Japan to foster a worldwide audience capable of accurately receiving Japan’s “broadcasts,” and added that what Japan needs to do above all is to discover the human resources who already have this receptive ability.

He pointed to two reasons why his magazine Zhiri has sold well, despite its limited resources. First of all, learning about Japan is a way for Chinese to improve their own level of knowledge. And the other reason is that the magazine was created by Chinese themselves. In other words, the magazine is in touch with the Chinese public and presents them with information that is to their own benefit. It was necessary for magazine’s editors to pay attention to how knowledge about Japan could benefit their readers in China.

“Mention of ‘Japan-Chinese relations’ superficially calls to mind the anti-Japan demonstrations in China and the territorial disputes, but underneath that surface level Chinese now live in an era where they are also consuming Japanese culture. We made a point of using the expression ‘consuming,’ rather than ‘understanding,’ when it comes to culture.”

Kwong, for his part, underscored the need for multilateral talks involving the United States and other countries.

“I find it very promising that the United States has voiced its concerns regarding this issue. It is often reported in Japan that the South Korean government has taken a hardline anti-Japanese stance, but since mid-October of this year there has been a shift in the way the media there is reporting on matters and an increase in calls for improved Japan-Korean relations. The role of the United States, behind the scenes, seems to have been instrumental. It is interesting to note that with the criticism of Japan tapering off somewhat, the reporting on China in the Korean media has become more critical. I think it is necessary to realize that Japan’s relations with South Korea or with China are not merely a diplomatic issue but are also linked to each country’s domestic scene.”

Public Diplomacy that Nurtures Trust

The session’s moderator, Kondō, pointed out that even though the theme of the symposium is the “conditions for being a well-loved country,” the issue really comes down more to trust. In other words, the important thing is “to raise the desire among your counterparts in other countries to collaborate with you.” He then posed the question of what sort of public diplomacy is necessary in East Asia for Japan to become a more trusted partner.

Ogoura, in response, noted his belief that the key thing is for the two sides to strive to meet a common goal. He pointed to such examples as efforts to deal with common issues, such as environmental problems, responses to natural disasters and infectious diseases, and initiatives to address the rapidly graying population and need for more nursing care. “It’s fine to have arguments along the path to that goal,” he added, “because mutual understanding will emerge in that process.”

Watanabe, following this train of thought, pointed to some examples of proactive Japanese efforts outside of East Asia, such as the popular effort in Africa spearheaded by the Japanese corporation Sumitomo Chemical to fight malaria through a new type of mosquito net; as well as efforts in Southeast Asia countries to use Japan as a model for the development of postal systems or prison rehabilitation programs. These are examples, he said, of how Japan’s public diplomacy can involve sharing the nation’s own know-how and experiences with others in pursuit of common goals.

Watanabe next touched on the issue of historical understanding:

“In the past, Japanese scholars have carried out joint historical research with their Chinese and Korean counterparts, but despite the amount of time that went into this work, when the moment came to present the findings the Chinese side pulled the plug on the project. I think that instead of simply engaging in such bilateral research, Japan should carry out joint research with American, European, and Southeast Asian scholars and have these findings presented globally in English. Stanford University once published the results of a comparative study of textbooks in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and the United States without any complaints being issued by those countries, and I think similar sorts of academic research are necessary.”

Ogoura shared his thoughts on this subject of history:

“There has been a pattern in the postwar period of Japan apologizing to South Korea and China only because of requests to do so. But even if this pattern continues for a century it will not yield positive results. In the case of France, we have seen how the process of reconciliation with Germany involved its encounter with its own past, recognizing that there were French collaborationists with the Nazis. Japan also needs to look back and engage with its own past proactively. It might be described as a process of reconciliation with itself. And the same is true for China and South Korea as they look back on their history. In short, each country needs, first of all, to come to terms with its own past.”

The session concluded with Kondō, as moderator, noting that we seem to have not only entered the age of public diplomacy but also the era of what might be called individual diplomacy, travel diplomacy, and private diplomacy.

Photos by Itabashi Yūichi

diplomacy East Asia Japan Foundation public diplomacy international relations Olympics policy Friedrich Ebert Foundation cultural exchange Mao Danqing Foundation Kwong Yongseok Yasush Watanabe Kazuo Ogoura Zhiri