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To What Extent does the National Identity Matter to Public Diplomacy Strategy?

In East Asia – Comparing China and Taiwan.


The international community shares an intention for maintaining peace. Cooperation and setting up institutions have become increasingly important because non-traditional diplomatic strategies have been beneficial in many countries to help work together without raging war. This is particularly apparent in East Asia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the power vacuum left behind raised concerns about who would fill it in. New conflicts were feared in the regions as a consequence of this. However, the strong growth of the economies in the region led to an endeavour in public diplomacy rather than in raging war. China emerged as a regional power and has been eager to build its image as a responsible and peaceful power to its neighbours. In 2003 Hu, Jing-Tao asserted that China’s rising is a peaceful development and he shaped China’s image in domestic and foreign media. However, China’s public diplomacy did not achieve to erase the doubts in its neighbours over its systemic rivalries. In what way has China failed in public diplomacy to brand its image? In my opinion, it is the development of nationalism that has continued to pose a threat to foreign states. This leads to the question of whether the establishment of a national identity is a hindrance to a strategy of public diplomacy. On the contrary, in Taiwan, the generational change of national identity seems to be important to its public diplomacy strategy. It is the development of a national identity that is the key to the success of public diplomacy in East Asia. To put this in perspective I will review the historical literature of East Asia's identities to this region's security to verify China's motivations in investing in a public diplomatic policy, which I will then compare to Taiwan's case of developing a strategy of public diplomacy.

by Yung Lin


East Asia’s perception of security

In international relations, it is security that determines every state’s action and interaction. To a realist, the structure of security is constructed by every state's defence budget, military practices, and the advancement of weapon technology. To a liberalist, security can be managed by setting up an institution. However, in East Asia, neither of them explains this region's security background. The reason for this is that this region has developed the perception of common security in a distinguished way.


Is East Asia prone to wars?

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there had been a discussion on whether East Asia was ripe for rivalries due to the change of power distribution. In Bercovitch’s Unraveling Internal Conflicts in East Asia and the Pacific, he provided vivid figures showing the patterns of conflicts. In figure 1, he reveals that even though the number of conflicts in East Asia increased in the 90s, many of these ended soon after 2000. Moreover, in figure 2, he points out that these conflicts are mostly internal rather than international. The prediction that East Asia would be the next conflict hotspot failed to explain the security dynamics; however, these two figures show that East Asian states may still struggle in protecting their sovereignty, and stabilizing their society. Tevini stated that East Asian states were in the process of building their nation. Although realists fail on this point, liberalists have a different view and think that East Asia is in the 19th Century of Europe and will eventually be set on a path like the EU.



Figure 1 & 2 sources: Bercovitch, J., & DeRouen, Jr., Karl. (2011). Unravelling internal conflicts in East Asia and the Pacific. The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.


The sovereignty issue is not only the difference between ASEAN and the EU but also the fact that identity is the key to this region's security structure.

Will East Asia set up an institution like the EU?

An institution like the European Union is considered to be a success in managing a region's international relations and setting up a dialogue mechanism for member states to talk rather than fight. However, the figures again show that in the same period, there were more intrastate conflicts in Europe than in East Asia. The Yugoslavian countries were also in the process of building their nation but why did the conflicts go beyond borders? It is therefore not a strong argument for East Asia to develop a trajectory like an EU model, as the European model is simply not universal and has been overstated for this homogeneity. One may argue that the creation of ASEAN is a way to follow up, but its lack of security discourse does not justify its function. It is again leading to the fact that these states’ shared sense of the region's security is different from the EU. The sovereignty issue is not only the difference between ASEAN and the EU but also the fact that identity is the key to this region's security structure.


East Asia's definition of security is social and economic dimensions.

The Asia economic miracles have convinced East Asian states to focus on the region's reciprocity. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia doubled their economic growth compared to other states in the region in 1965 – 1990. Japan started the goose flying model but failed due to historical hostility and distrust. Despite Japan's security alliance with the US, it still holds on to a reserved attitude towards its military policy. Herein, it shows that Japan's identities to this region's security are not restricted to military power but more on the social and economic dimension. China's rise is perhaps taken as a replacement to Japan's role in East Asia. However, China emphasized many times that its rise is peaceful for the region's permanent stability. Neither Japan nor China was willing to take on the leadership role because of historical complexities. This again reveals that East Asia’s security is more on the social and economic dimensions and hence maintaining stability and peace becomes important. China has focused on soft power and public diplomacy strategy.


China's motivations in conducting public diplomatic policy

Why does China take on soft power?

The Chinese discourse of soft power derives from the US after the cold war. China considers the US soft power to be an effective policy. However, it has interpreted and implemented soft power by its historical culture and spirits, which is constituted more than Nye’s definition of soft power.


First, soft power in terms of behaviour, China involves its traditional morals. For example, ‘不戰而屈人之兵’ is a concept advocated by an ancient Chinese military strategist, 孫子, Sun Zi. It means to defeat the enemy without waging a war. An ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, 孟子, upholds a governing tactic ‘王道’ meaning the kingly way as well as governing by morals instead of forces. In this sense, this definition of Chinese soft power encompassing ancient Chinese philosophy is wider than Nye’s definition of soft power. Second, soft power in terms of resources, China has integrated different components of culture, political values and foreign policy. In culture, China stre