China Power

China Tries Some PR

China has a mixed image among Americans. Will a new PR campaign in Times Square help at all?

I mentioned Sunday the latest Pew Research poll on US attitudes to China. As I said, it was something of a mixed bag—88 percent of respondents said that the US government should try to strengthen ties with China, although 20 percent of Americans questioned also said they viewed China as the country that poses the biggest threat—above both Iran and North Korea.

With a view to bolstering its image at least a little in the United States, China has taken out a massive ad campaign in New York’s Times Square that will reportedly be running through Valentines Day. The ad, which appears on six large screens, includes a series of images of successful Chinese, from businessmen to athletes to astronauts, above phrases like ‘Award-winning Chinese talent’ and ‘Chinese bravery.’

Chinese news coverage of the ad (in English) can be viewed here. A PR push like this isn’t a bad idea during a state visit, but the question is, did it hit the right note? On the plus side, it fades out with the words ‘Chinese friendship.’ But as Loretta Chao noted in the Wall Street Journal, some believe the ad will have done more harm than good.

Chao quotes marketing firm Wolf Group’s chief executive, David Wolf, as saying that by flaunting China’s material accomplishments, China is effectively giving Americans ‘the finger’.

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Certainly, the Pew poll suggests Americans are, rightly or wrongly, concerned about the impact China has had on the US economy, especially with US unemployment still a stubbornly high 9.4 percent.

Still, it’s not as if the ad was placed in the middle of a manufacturing town that has just seen large numbers of jobs ‘displaced’ by trade with China. The choice of the phrase ‘Chinese bravery’ coupled with a marine officer is, admittedly, slightly odd given the ongoing concerns about China’s military build-up. But overall, probably no harm done. It’s certainly not the worst bit of Chinese diplomacy in the past few months…