Call/WhatsApp: +1 914 416 5343

Public diplomacy and Nation branding: A comparative analysis of the experiences reported in the USA and China


This paper focus on the topic of public diplomacy and nation branding in the context of China and USA. The current expansion of the global market that is characterized with high level of competition has made brand a critical factor for any player seeking to operate successfully in the global market. Without a positive and powerful nation brand (good image), no country is likely to compete effectively for the consumers, investors, tourists, immigrants, world’s media or respect from other nations (Szondi, 2011). In essence, a nation’s image influences nearly every aspect of the country’s international engagement thus have a significant impact on its social, political, cultural and economic progress. According to Dinnie (2015) countries virtually develop a positive image through various public diplomacy and nation branding strategies. Public diplomacy refers to the approaches adopted by a government and/or private individuals to indirectly or directly influence the public opinion on the country. The major focus of public diplomacy is to influence the opinion of the elite and more active foreign citizens that are likely to influence the foreign government’s decision. On the other hand, nation branding entails the use of marketing information and techniques to promote the nation’s brand as well as build a positive image (Weed& Nakamura, 2009). The major difference observed between the two concepts (public diplomacy and nation building) is that public diplomacy focuses on promoting the political interest of the nation in the global platform so as to develop a receptive environment for the country’s goals and foreign policy. On the contrary, nation branding focuses on improving the nation’s competitiveness in the global market by emphasizing the uniqueness of the country to attract more foreign investors and tourists (Szondi, 2011). Despite the difference observed, both concepts have an ultimate goal of promoting the image of the country, thus ought to be treated as complimentary concepts.

Developing a positive national image has significant benefits to the country. A good image would foster more foreign investment, attracts tourists and increases the reception of the nation’s policy in other countries that contribute significantly towards the modernization and economic development of the nation (Szondi, 2011). Nevertheless, as Rojas-Méndez, Murphy and Papadopoulos (2013) reported, developing a positive image is dependent on the successful nature of the nation branding campaigns and public diplomacy strategies put in place by the government. It is therefore vital that the nation branding techniques and public diplomacy initiatives be constantly evaluated to ascertain their effectiveness in promoting the nations image. This forms the basis of the proposed study that seeks to undertake a comparative analysis of the public diplomacy initiatives and nation branding techniques that are currently adopted by the USA and China to identify the similarities and differences observed. The study will also evaluate the effectiveness of the approaches in improving national image in the context of the two countries.

Research Context
Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding

Public diplomacy has a common goal of improving the state’s image. Public diplomacy focuses on endorsing the political interest of the country with an aim of convincing a certain group of elites and foreign citizens to accepting the policies of the nation. On the other hand, nation branding refers to the image of the country that is an understanding of the most central issue/issues that defines the country (Szondi, 2011). There are certain similarities and differences observed between the public diplomacy and nation branding concepts. According to Jordan (2014)the two concepts have a general goal of improving the nation’s image. Moreover, the concepts all focus on the use of attraction and communication to achieve the above stated goal, as such, are considered soft power instruments. Apart from the similarities reported, there are also distinct differences observed between the two concepts. Pamment (2014) have asserted that nation branding targets both the domestic and foreign publics to aid in improving the nation’s brand. This concept holds an assumption that the main role of domestic citizens is to act and live as brand ambassadors thus plays a significant role in promoting the nation’s image. On the contrary, public diplomacy only targets a certain group of the foreign public that is capable of influencing the foreign country’s policies. As such the nation branding concept is likely to have a broader influence towards the public than public diplomacy.

Another difference observed is on the approaches adopted in the two concepts for the overall aim of improving image to be realized. According to Hakala, Lemmetyinen and Kantola (2013) public diplomacy focuses on the use of education, cultural and information exchange to develop mutual understanding with foreign nations. On the other hand, national branding is more concerned with the competitive advantage of the nation, as such, focuses on the use of symbols and visuals communicated over the mass media to position the country above other nations in the region. The nation branding techniques mainly emphasizes on the uniqueness of the organization and the attractiveness of its various sites and locations to attract more investors and thus positively influence its competitiveness in the global economy(Weed & Nakamura, 2009). Regardless of the different approaches involved in public diplomacy and nation branding, theresult is the improvement of the nation’s image so that it is more competitive in attracting tourists, consumers, foreign investors and in making its policy highly acceptable in other nations of the world.

A number of scholars have analyzed the concepts of public diplomacy and nation branding. The major focus has been on whether they are complementary of one another or distinct concepts. Some scholars have argued that vast differences observed between the two makes them distinct (Jordan, 2014). Nonetheless, the most widely accepted view by most scholars is that the two concepts are complimentary. They share common characteristics and focus on image promotion, through building the nation’s identity, promoting culture and other attractive sites within the country (Hakala, Lemmetyinen & Kantola, 2013). Nation building and public diplomacy are therefore dynamic processes that supports a country to develop its attractiveness in the global market to enable it accomplish its goals.

Public diplomacy and nation branding in USA

For a long time now, the USA has influenced the decisions of other countries through public diplomacy. The US public diplomacy initiatives targeted a wide range of audience including foreign citizens, journalists, opinion leaders, the community and civic leaders of the foreign nations (Jordan, 2014). The major public diplomacy initiatives implemented by the country included expert speaker programs, people-to-people contact, media broadcasting and the use of movies. Through these initiatives, the nation managed to significantly influence the opinion and actions of the other foreign countries towards its interests and policies (Rojas-Méndez, Murphy & Papadopoulos, 2013). Since, public diplomacy is likely to lead to the development of lasting relationship with other nations, the US interests and policies remained highly acceptable in various foreign nations over a longer period.

The country did not engage much in nation building in the historical times, however, the country promoted its cultural performances that enhances its position in the global market. The high diplomacy attained by the country also contributed towards its improved image and enhanced competitiveness in the market (Rojas-Méndez, Murphy & Papadopoulos, 2013). This therefore explains the capability of the US to maintain a better position in the global market in relation to the other countries of the world.

Current changes observed in the global market have rendered the public diplomacy and nation branding strategies that were initially implemented by the country lees effective. According Hoffmann (2015) the changes in the information technology requires the use of more current and robust initiatives in public diplomacy that will lead to enhanced nations image. Whether the country has considered and implemented up to data initiatives is what the proposed study seeks to establish. Gregory (2014) has also reported that significant benefits on image improvements are likely not to be realized by focusing independently on public diplomacy. Nation building also contributes significantly towards the improvement of the company’s image. Thus by having a strong diplomacy that has led to the development of permanent relation, there is still need for the nation to assess its nation branding techniques to further promote its image in the global arena.

Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding in China

Contrary to the US that started the implementation of public diplomacy in promoting its policies and interests in the ancient time, China’s first engagement in public diplomacy was in the 19th century. The nation’s public diplomacy has since grown extensively leading to the creation of Public Diplomacy Research Center that mainly focuses on devising initiatives that can be implemented to promote the nation’s policies and interests to the foreign nations (Weed & Nakamura, 2009). The country has also been involved in nation branding mainly through the promotion of its unique culture. According to Pamment (2014) the Chinese Confucius Institute have been developed in most foreign countries to promote Chinese culture, facilitate cultural exchange, and promote Chinese culture. Despite the full engagement of the nation in public diplomacy and nation branding, the current China’s brand performance is still not convincing. The Global RepTrakrankings availed in the year 2012 indicates that ranked 43rd in brand performance, the country performance further dropped to 66th position in the year 2013 out of the 110 countries that were ranked (Hakala, Lemmetyinen & Kantola, 2013). This therefore presents the need for the evaluation of the various nation branding techniques and public diplomacy initiatives that are currently adopted by the nation to ascertain their level of effectiveness.

The Effects of Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding on Country’s Image

Public diplomacy and nation branding are likely to promote the image of a country. This promotion enhances the competitiveness of the country in the global market as well as improves the acceptability of its interests and policies to the governments of the various foreign nations. Enhanced economic and social growth is therefore likely to be observed when a country engages in public diplomacy and nation branding (Pamment, 2014). Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the public diplomacy initiatives and the successful nature of the nation branding campaigns implemented by the nation, have significant influence on the outcome. As Dinnie (2015) the initiatives ought to be capable of reaching a specific target as well as up to data dependent on the changes observed in the global markets. Constant changes of the public diplomacy initiatives and nation branding techniques are recommended if a strong and positive national image is to be achieved.