It is common practice when evaluating the effect of public diplomacy to associate it with soft power. This chapter challenges this view. It holds that, rather than turning soft power resources into soft power, the fundamental function of public diplomacy is to transform a country’s assets into soft power resources that will attract the target country. This chapter also shows that although public diplomacy performs such functions, it is not necessarily effective, especially in ‘high politics’ such as territorial security. But even where its effectiveness can be exerted, public diplomacy is subject to other distractions. Therefore, in order to measure accurately the real effect of public diplomacy, it is necessary to exclude the potential influence of these interfering variables by strengthening the rigor of research design.
- public diplomacy
To regard the accurate evaluation of the effect of public diplomacy work as the most important research topic for public diplomacy scholars is not overstating the case. Clearly, unless we make an accurate assessment of past work, it will be difficult to determine whether or not current working ideas and methods are correct, whether or not certain policy proposals aimed at improving the effectiveness of public diplomacy will work, and in which public diplomacy areas or projects to increase investment in the future. In this sense, the empirical measurement and scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of ‘public diplomacy’—a research area that is highly policy- and practice-related—should be the primary and most critical topic of research in this regard as a whole. However, to make an accurate assessment of public diplomacy, it is necessary to define theoretically its function, utility boundary and measurement method.
This chapter holds that public diplomacy’s most important function is to transform a country’s general assets into soft power resources, which refer to those assets that people of other countries like or support and which are therefore attractive to them. In other words, the function of public diplomacy is to reverse the attitude of people in other countries towards the assets (such as a certain culture, set of values or policies) of the implementing country from not knowing, liking or supporting them to the opposite. Therefore, the success of a public diplomacy effort is assessed according to whether or not it improves or enhances the public of target country’s evaluation of a particular aspect of the implementing country.
However, owing to certain functional boundaries, public diplomacy does not work in all problem areas. In ‘high-politics’ such as territorial security, for instance, public diplomacy is likely to be of little use. But even in fields where public diplomacy can play a role, factors such as changes in power structure, differences in political systems and the quality of political relations among countries will still have impact on its effectiveness. The ultimate purpose of clarifying the function and functional boundaries of public diplomacy, therefore, is to measure more accurately its effect. This chapter further proposes that there are two main methods in this regard: one is the sampling survey method that is aimed at the general public, namely, the public opinion poll, and the other is that of the unstructured interview with a small specific group of people. Both methods have their advantages. As regards their practical application, however, certain matters demand attention.
This chapter is divided into four parts as follows. The first part discusses the definition and functions of public diplomacy on the basis of combing through and criticizing the existing viewpoints, thus to clarify the judgment criteria of the effect of public diplomacy. The second part discusses the functional boundaries of public diplomacy and points out the disturbance variables that affect its actual effect. On the basis of the first two parts, the third part discusses two empirical methods through which to measure the effect of public diplomacy and the problems to which attention should be paid in this regard. The fourth part is the conclusion.
2. Definition and functions of public diplomacy
Scholars have yet to form a unified understanding of the definition of the term ‘public diplomacy’ since it was first proposed in 1965. At present, there are still discussions in this field on ‘traditional public diplomacy’ and ‘new public diplomacy’. It is now believed that, since the turn of the twenty-first century, public diplomacy has shown signs of transition and transformation from the former to the latter. New public diplomacy, a horizontal mode with multiple actors characterized by communication and cooperation, is version 2.0. It is an upgraded version of traditional public diplomacy, which is a hierarchical mode of information dissemination centred on the government [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].
Although there are many cognitive differences between the two, with the deepening of research, scholars have reached a certain degree of consensus on the connotation of public diplomacy in the following aspects. The first is with regard to implementation, wherein the government plays an indispensable and irreplaceable role. Even through the eyes of advocates of new public diplomacy, and their embrace of other implementing bodies such as NGOs and the general public, there is no difference between them and scholars of traditional public diplomacy as to the issue of the government as initiator and important promoter.
In fact, no matter how far public diplomacy develops in the networking direction, the nature of its diplomacy does not change at all. As a specific branch of diplomacy, the representativeness of sovereign states, which is closely related to the government, is its essential attribute. The second aspect is the object, or object of implementation, where targeting the people is recognized as the core difference between public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy. Third is the means of implementation, where cultural exchanges and media communication are regarded as the main means of promotion. According to these consensuses, therefore, public diplomacy can be defined as a diplomatic activity wherein the government is the initiator, the public is the object, and relevant policy measures, including foreign policy, are introduced through cultural exchanges, media publicity and other means.
Having clarified the definition of public diplomacy, we need to make clear its functions, as it is only when we know what public diplomacy should and can do that we can determine, according to this criterion, whether or not it is effective. At present, academic discussions on the effect of public diplomacy generally associate it with the concept of ‘soft power’ as proposed by Nye [8, 9, 10, 11, 12], and tend to take the size of a country’s soft power as the core measure through which to evaluate the effect of its public diplomacy [13, 14, 15, 16, 17]. In order to define more clearly and reasonably the function of public diplomacy, this part will critically refer to Nye’s theory when clarifying the relationship between public diplomacy and soft power.
The first problem when discussing ‘soft power’ is how to define the concept. To better understand how Nye defines and discusses soft power, we must first clarify how the more fundamental concept of power is defined. In the field of international relations, there are two ways to define ‘power’. One is the ‘power-as-resources’ approach, which treats power as an asset and attribute inherent in the state, with emphasis on the material resources needed to constitute it. The other is the ‘relational power’ approach, which emphasizes the impact of power on human behaviour .
Based on the ‘relational power’ approach, Dahl gave a classic definition that is widely accepted and cited in the field of international relations: The so-called power is the ability of A to get B to do something he or she would otherwise not do . The ‘power-as-resources’ approach defines ‘power’ as what we now commonly refer to as ‘capability’, while the ‘relational power’ approach emphasizes the effect of the ‘power’ of one actor on the behaviour of other actors.
According to Nye’s definition of soft power, it is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment . Or, more specifically, ‘soft power is the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes’ . Obviously, Nye’s definition of soft power follows the ‘relational power’ approach. What he calls ‘soft power’ emphasizes the influence of one actor, rather than of the resources he owns, on the behaviour of another actor.
Nye points out that the common ground between ‘soft power’ and ‘hard power’ is that whereby both kinds of power can change the behaviour of other countries. The difference between them consists in bringing about this change in different ways. Soft power works through attraction, and hard power through coercion or inducement. The reason why one country may have the ‘soft’ power through ‘attraction’ to change the behaviour of other countries lies in the assets this country possesses that are attractive to other countries. Nye calls this kind of asset a ‘soft power resource’ .
In short, Nye’s ‘soft power’ actually corresponds to the ‘power’ of the ‘relational power’ approach. What he called ‘soft power resources’ corresponds to ‘power’ as defined by the ‘power-as-resources’ approach, also commonly referred to as ‘capability’. In this sense, ‘soft power resources’ can also be called ‘soft capability’. The relationship between (soft/hard) capability and (soft/hard) power is shown in Figure 1.
It is obvious that a soft power resource is the material premise of soft power. Nye points out that the soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad) and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority) . Public diplomacy plays an important role in the process of transforming soft power resources into soft power.
Governments (and sometimes not just governments) engage in public diplomacy by using their own soft power resources to attract other countries and form soft power. For example, ‘Public diplomacy tries to attract by drawing attention to these potential resources through broadcasting, subsidizing cultural exports, arranging exchanges, and so forth’. However, using unappealing resources (that is, non-soft power resources) to carry out public diplomacy will not create soft power and may produce the opposite result. For example, ‘Exporting Hollywood films full of nudity and violence to conservative Muslim countries may produce repulsion’ .
In sum, Nye’s theory presents a process chain from assets to soft power resources and then to soft power. Based on this theory, the function of public diplomacy is to transform soft power resources into soft power, that is, to use soft power resources to change other countries’ behaviour by attracting other countries’ publics (Figure 2).
Nye’s contribution to the study of public diplomacy lies in his creative integration of public diplomacy and his theory of soft power, which provides a theoretical framework for the analysis and study of public diplomacy and important enlightenment for us to define the function of public diplomacy.
However, Nye’s specific views on the relationship between public diplomacy and soft power are debatable. To be specific, as Nye placed public diplomacy in step ② as shown in Figure 2, other scholars have therefore defined the function of public diplomacy as ‘transforming soft power resources into soft power’. In the author’s view, this point is difficult to establish. The definition of public diplomacy determines that it can only appear in step ① and not in step ②.
Step ② refers to the transformation of ‘soft power resources’ into ‘soft power’. The process entails the target country making policies or exhibiting behaviour favourable to another country because the target public likes and supports certain of that country’s assets. The action mechanism here is as follows. The direct reason why the government of a target country will support the country with soft power lies in its need to maintain the stability of its own regime. When the domestic public of the target country has an extremely positive attitude towards the source country of the soft power, the stability of that regime will face great pressure from the domestic public should the target country’s government blindly adopt negative policies. This is Audience cost theory [20, 21, 22].
But the problem is that, whether according to the definition of public diplomacy or the actual work of public diplomacy carried out by every country, public diplomacy will not get involved in this step at all. A core difference between public diplomacy and other forms of diplomacy is that the direct object of public diplomacy is the people, rather than governments, of other countries.
In fact, as a diplomatic practice, public diplomacy is generated and exists based on the assumption that the attitude of the people of a country will influence the policies of the government. Thus, as a supplement to traditional diplomacy, and also as distinct from traditional diplomacy, public diplomacy only focuses on changes of public attitudes in the target country, whose people it is that exert pressure on their government to change its attitude. By definition, once a country’s diplomatic work involves direct contact with other governments, it will be classified as traditional diplomacy, or government diplomacy, instead of public diplomacy. In this sense, as long as it is public diplomacy, it cannot appear in step ②. Empirically speaking, therefore, the actual practice of public diplomacy in countries throughout the world is limited to work that targets the public of other countries.
Step ① refers to the process of transformation from ‘assets’ to ‘soft power resources’. According to Nye’s definition, ‘soft power resources’ refer to those assets that the public of other countries likes or supports, and which are therefore attractive to them. Assets (such as a certain culture, political values or policy) themselves will not change. The reason why assets can transform into ‘soft power resources’ is that the public opinion of other countries towards these assets changes from ‘not knowing’ and ‘not liking’ to ‘knowing’ and ‘liking’. Thus, the transformation from ‘assets’ into ‘soft power resources’ is, in fact, the change of attitude of the public of other countries towards certain of the implementing country’s ‘assets’. Such a change in attitude is exactly what public diplomacy, with the public as the implementing object, should and can achieve.
To be specific, the countries implementing public diplomacy can clarify and explain their policy positions through various information channels, such as information release and international broadcasting. They may thus prove to the peoples of target countries the legitimacy of their policies through information campaigns and personnel exchanges which demonstrate that their values are the same at home and abroad. Through cultural exchanges and other activities, these countries can also enable the people of target countries to learn more about implementing their culture, thus creating conditions for the production of attractive effects. In short, public diplomacy can turn assets that are not ‘soft power resources’ into new soft power resources.
In a nutshell, public diplomacy itself only involves interaction with other countries’ publics; interaction with other countries’ governments is not included. This determines that public diplomacy can work only in Step ① rather than Step ②.
In addition, if the function of public diplomacy is to change the behaviour of the government of the target country, then such a function lacks particularity. The ultimate goal of all diplomacy is to pursue changes in the behaviour of the target government. As just one of many diplomatic tasks, however, public diplomacy obviously needs its own unique goals and functions. If the function of public diplomacy also includes achieving a change in the behaviour of the target country’s government, then, as a subclass of diplomacy, public diplomacy becomes indistinguishable from other subclasses of diplomacy, which negates the need for it to exist in its own right. From the perspective of the uniqueness of diplomatic work, therefore, the function of public diplomacy should be distinct from that of traditional diplomacy.
To conclude, the relationship between public diplomacy and soft power is not, as Nye believes, to transform soft power resources into soft power, but to transform general assets into soft power resources (Figure 3).
Since the function of public diplomacy is to create soft power resources, and soft power resources refer to those assets that are accepted or favoured by the people of the target country, the success of a public diplomacy project is judged according to whether or not it improves or enhances the people of the target country’s evaluation of one aspect of the implementing country. In other words, what we actually measure is whether or not public diplomacy expands a country’s soft power resources.
3. Functional boundaries and influencing factors of public diplomacy
Given that the basic function of public diplomacy is to create soft power resources, could it also play a role in all problem areas by changing the perception or evaluation of the people of target countries? And if such restricted areas do exist, can the function of public diplomacy be fully realized in areas where it could play a role? The answer to all of these questions is clearly no. This is the utility boundary, and possible influencing factor of public diplomacy.
First, public diplomacy is likely to be of little use in the ‘high politics’ of territorial security. Whether the public diplomacy of the US in the Middle East since the turn of the twenty-first century or the publicity of the Chinese and Japanese governments against each other’s people in recent years with regard to the Diaoyu Islands issue, the effect is not ideal. Obviously, it is not due to the US’s public diplomacy work that people in the Middle East do not recognize the legitimacy of the US’s invasion and interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Libya, and nor do the Chinese and Japanese people object to the territorial claims of their own governments due to the publicity work of the other government.
This reminds us that communication and mutual trust are ineffective when it comes to territorial security, especially territorial disputes, where one party gains a zero-sum conflict at the expense of the other. It will be difficult to persuade their people to accept ‘legitimate’ interference in their territory and to give up their claims to territory and rights no matter how convincingly countries tell their own stories. Public diplomacy is of little use, therefore, when it comes to the ‘high politics’ of territorial security.
Second, in the field where public diplomacy could play a role, its effect will still be affected by the following factors. The first is the inevitable structural contradiction between a country’s rising power and that of other countries. The negative impact of this factor on the effect of public diplomacy is typified by China’s public diplomacy towards Japan. Global View 2008 surveys taken in Chicago showed that the Japanese had the lowest level of favourable views on China, behind those of South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. 89% of Japanese respondents said they were either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ uncomfortable with the idea of China’s 1 day becoming the leader of Asia .
The key reason lies in the semi-structured interviews with Dinnie and Lio. When asked, ‘What are the key challenges facing China in its attempts to build a positive reputation within Japan?’, one Japanese journalist interviewee admitted, ‘The Japanese people and their elected representatives, sensitive to China’s growing strength and acutely aware of Japan’s deficiencies, are unnerved by China’s growing power and Japan’s economic dependence on China’. Another interviewee, a director of one of Japan’s cultural and political institutes, agreed that there was ‘fear in Japan of China getting bigger and Japan smaller, that’s the heart of the matter. It’s hard for China to deal with this’ .
The second factor is that of differences in political systems. It is in China’s public diplomacy towards Europe that this factor has the most obviously negative impact. According to Dutch scholar d’Hooghe, Europe is deeply concerned about China’s domestic conditions; much more so, it appears, than the United States. China’s high favourability rating in Europe at the beginning of this decade rapidly declined after 2006. ‘China-hype’ has gradually transmuted into fear of a rising China and dissatisfaction with the slow pace of China’s political reform and human rights situation .
Jhee’s research also confirms the existence of national prejudice , which shows that people’s evaluation of a country’s political system is largely irrational. People tend to like a particular political system not because it works, but simply because their ideology and values align with it. On the other hand, cost-benefit considerations make it impossible for an executive to change his or her regime just to ‘please’ the people of the target country. This means that it is neither possible for China to change its own political system voluntarily nor to win the favour of Western people by demonstrating the effectiveness (superiority) of its own political system. In this sense, it is difficult to avoid completely the negative impact of the difference in political system on the public goodwill of the target country—that is, on the effect of public diplomacy.
The third factor is political relations between countries. A study the author conducted on the empirical evaluation of the effects of China’s public diplomacy in six countries made clear that this factor has significantly influenced the public of the United States and of the United Kingdom’s evaluation of China, but in different directions . China-US relations have a negative impact on the favourable opinion of the American people towards China. The more positive China-US relations become, the less favourable the US public will feel towards China. Meanwhile, the political relationship between China and the UK has a positive impact on the favourable opinion of the British people towards China. Further research is undoubtedly needed as to why bilateral political relations should have such opposite effects. However, with regard to the issue of the effect of public diplomacy as subordinate to that of the level of political and security relations, this should be relatively certain.
All of the above variables are likely to influence (either drag down or improve) to varying degrees the goodwill of people in the target country towards the implementing country. Therefore, when these variables coexist with the public diplomacy activities themselves, we cannot assess whether or not the public diplomacy conducted towards the country is effective based simply on the decline or increase of favourable opinion, but need to control as far as possible the influence of these interfering variables through rigorous research design.
4. Measurement of the effect of public diplomacy
If defining the function and effect evaluation criteria of public diplomacy is to define ‘what to measure’, then we need also to know what methods are needed to measure the effect of public diplomacy, that is, ‘the measuring tools’, and how to measure the effect of public diplomacy through these methods, that is, ‘how to measure’. There are two main empirical methods of measuring the effect of public diplomacy: one is the sampling survey method, which is aimed at the general public, namely, the public opinion poll; the other is the unstructured interview with a small group of specific people. The non-structured interview, also known as the non-standardized interview, is either a semi-controlled or uncontrolled interview, which can be divided into four types: intensive interview, in-depth interview, objective statement, and symposium .
The public opinion poll method and the interview method are two common widely used empirical methods in modern social science research on which there have been many methodological works with regard to their design procedure and implementation steps in the general sense, but which are not discussed in this chapter. The author’s specific concern is: when using these two methods to measure the effect of public diplomacy, which problems need to be resolved to ensure the accuracy of the measured results? In this regard, there are at least three aspects worth discussing.
First, who should be chosen for the investigation? Whether a public opinion poll or an interview, the first question involves the selection of respondents. The author’s opinion is: pinpoint the direct audience of public diplomacy and extract from this group (as far as possible) the respondents through which to measure its effect. This is because the fundamental purpose of our survey is to see whether or not the people of the target country have changed their attitude towards a certain aspect of the implementing country due to a specific public diplomacy project on the part of the implementing country, rather than a general change in attitude.
Imagine country A conducting public diplomacy through the medium of international students there from country B. After a period of time, we want to know whether or not country A’s public diplomacy activity has been effective, so we conduct questionnaires or interviews with workers in country B. In this case, even if the survey results show that workers in country B have never heard of such public diplomacy as conducted by country A, we should not consider it to be invalid, because country B’s international students in country A may be much more familiar with such public diplomacy. Similarly, even if the survey results show that the attitude of workers in country B towards country A has improved, we should not assume that the public diplomacy aimed at international students from country B has been effective, because it is possible that the attitude of country B’s international students in country A has deteriorated.
For example, the aforementioned interview study on the effect of China’s public diplomacy on Japan is flawed to some extent as regards its design, as discussed here . The two academics asked seven interviewees: ‘What effect, if any, do you think the establishment of Confucius Institutes in Japan has had on China’s reputation?” Obviously, the best and most convincing way of finding out whether or not establishing a Confucius institute in Japan will improve China’s reputation is to ask Japanese students who are studying or who have studied at Confucius institutes in Japan. However, the article clearly identified the seven respondents, none of whom were or had been students at a Confucius institute in Japan. Claiming that China’s public diplomacy efforts to promote Confucius institutes in Japan are ineffective, therefore, even though all respondents in the group said that they had not noticed or were only slightly aware of the existence of Confucius institutes, is both futile and unconvincing.
Second, which of the two methods of polling and interviewing should be chosen? As regards public opinion polling, it has the advantage of rapidly affording an understanding of the views of respondents on certain issues and timely reflecting changes in public opinion. At the same time, survey results can infer the general situation as a whole, so achieving high representativeness. The advantage of the non-structured interview lies in its great flexibility, which gives full play to the enthusiasm of both interviewers and interviewees. The two sides can have in-depth, extensive conversations and discussions on relevant issues, events, and phenomena, from history to current events, from causes to effects, from motivations to behaviours, and from individuals to others and major social environments on given topics, so obtaining rich data that is not forthcoming from structured interviews and opinion polls.
In view of the characteristics and advantages of the two methods, whether to choose one or both of them for a specific study should be based on the research question and the desired final results of empirical measurement. If researchers want only to know which public diplomacy activities, or specific aspects of an activity, have had a positive effect and which have not, then polling is the preferred method. If researchers want to know the reasons for the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a public diplomacy activity, or the actual psychological reaction of the activity target, they should consider the interview method. And if you want to understand both, it is best to combine the two methods.
Third, with regard to the interpretation and evaluation of the data, we must focus on the crucial matter of the potential impact of interference variables.
One potential dispute is that of whether measuring the effect of something requires excluding the effect of the interfering variable. Those who are extremely optimistic or who place great expectations on the functioning of public diplomacy may put forward the extreme view that public diplomacy must produce the desired change in the attitudes of the people of the target country despite the presence of other disturbing variables, such as those mentioned above, in order for us to consider it effective. Is that a reasonable view? Let us imagine another scenario: how do we determine whether or not the cooling function of an air conditioner is effective? One view is that assessing the cooling effect of air conditioning requires excluding all other factors that affect the temperature. According to this view, it is only when the doors and windows are closed, there is no direct sunlight or heat source in the room, all other possible variables remain unchanged and the indoor temperature drops a certain value (for example, 3°C) after the air conditioner has been on for a certain period of time (such as 10 min) that we can consider this air conditioning refrigeration as ‘effective’.
Another view is that assessing the cooling effect of an air conditioner does not require controlling for the effects of other interfering variables. According to this view, whether or not the doors and windows are closed, there is direct sunlight or a heat source in the room, or there are other potential interference variables, and no matter how long the air conditioning has been on, the indoor temperature must drop 3°C before we can consider the air conditioning refrigeration as ‘effective’.
Obviously, in real life even the pickiest consumer buying an air conditioner would not make such high demands of the manufacturer as listed in the second view above with regard to its refrigeration effect. That being the case, there is no reason to expect public diplomacy to be effective in the presence of interfering variables. In other words, it makes sense to say that a country’s public diplomacy towards a country is effective (or ineffective) only when the influence of other interfering variables is excluded. For example, we try to measure the effect of public diplomacy through public opinion poll data, which may be influenced by factors other than public diplomacy. Therefore, the interpretation and evaluation of these data must take into account the potential influence of interference variables.
When analysing the trend of the effect of public diplomacy over a period of time, the inflection point of poll data is often an important empirical basis for scholars to analyse any change in its effect. At the same time, however, it is at the inflection point that interference variables are most likely to exist. Therefore, when analysing the inflection point, we should not judge whether a country’s public diplomacy becomes effective or ineffective based solely on the data trend ensuing from it. Instead, we should focus on whether are not there are other interference factors at or before the inflection point that may affect the poll data.
Compared with the traditional inter-governmental diplomacy, the subjects and objects of public diplomacy are more extensive, the specific diplomatic forms more diverse, and the implementation period of some forms of public diplomacy is longer. These are the characteristics of public diplomacy that determine our need to strengthen the evaluation of its implementation effect in the process of carrying it out, thus to timely adjust the direction and implementation of public diplomacy strategies, reduce resource waste, and improve diplomatic efficiency. Effective evaluation of the effect of public diplomacy requires a determination of the evaluation criteria. The most common practice today is to associate the effects of public diplomacy with soft power, whereby the evaluation of a country’s public diplomacy is based on whether a country’s soft power towards other countries has improved. This chapter challenges that view and holds that the basic function of public diplomacy is to transform the assets of a country into soft power resources that attract the target country, rather than turning soft power resources into soft power, as mentioned by Joseph Nye. In other words, the success of a public diplomacy effort is judged by whether or not it improves or enhances the public of the target country’s evaluation of the implementing country.
When evaluating the effectiveness of a country’s public diplomacy, we should also avoid making excessive demands of it. For instance, public diplomacy is probably of little use in the ‘high politics’ of territorial security. Even in fields where public diplomacy can play a role, the power competition between countries, differences in political systems, quality of political relations, and other factors will lower the target country’s evaluation of the implementing country. In carrying out empirical research, we should carefully control for these interfering variables and avoid miscalculating the actual effect of public diplomacy. Therefore, researchers should focus on improving their research design in order to make empirical evaluation results more reliable. Rigorous empirical research is the most powerful guarantee of consistent pinpointing and rectifying of problems arising in public diplomacy practice.