China's soft power and public diplomacy in Australia: Misalignment between projection and reception - A cultural self-confidence perspective

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Byrne, Caitlin R
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Mackerras, Colin P
Trevaskes, Susan E
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Cultural self-confidence is an important term in Xi Jinping-era political discourse. Cultural self-confidence is a call by Xi Jinping for the Chinese nation to express confidence in its excellent cultural traditions, its revolutionary culture and in the advanced culture of socialism. The Communist Party of China considers public diplomacy as the key carrier of cultural self-confidence narratives. Yet, despite the importance attached to cultural self-confidence messaging, Western liberal democracies such as Australia have not embraced the image of China's rise and its positive messaging in the light that it was intended. This research seeks to explore the place of cultural-self confidence in soft power and public diplomacy today, primarily aiming to identify the factors that shape the misalignment between China's intention to exert "positive influence" and Australian media interpretations of China's rise as "negative influence". Two related conceptual frameworks are applied in this research. China's cultural self-confidence narratives are framed within the communication process of strategic narratives. This includes their formation, projection and reception. Therefore this research investigates (1) how scholarly texts in China have influenced the formation of the concept of Chinese cultural self-confidence and the shaping of narratives to present cultural self-confidence to people outside China, (2) how Chinese state-run English-language media have projected these narratives to foreign audiences through public diplomacy messaging, and (3) how these narratives have been received in the Australian media. Since analysis of the above three issues relate to mechanics of framing narratives, framing theory is used as a secondary conceptual framework to guide the analysis of media narratives about soft power and public diplomacy practices in China and Australia. The methodology of analysis used in this thesis is mainly qualitative in nature, specifically, qualitative content analysis and thematic analysis. This is supplemented by a quantitative analysis of news items. The findings of this analysis indicate that there are four main factors that have led to a misalignment between China's projection and Australia's reception of China's soft power and public diplomacy narratives in the media. These are, firstly, the different content emphasis in narratives in the Chinese and Australian media; secondly, the different nature of the media in China and Australia; and thirdly, the limitations of strategic narratives themselves as a conduit for public diplomacy messaging. In addition, geopolitical context--specifically, the triangulation of China-Australia-US relationships,--is an important issue underlining misalignment in all other three factors.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Govt & Int Relations
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soft power
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