Roundtable Discussion on “EU-China Strategic Communication: Images, Trust and Public Relations” Held at Tsinghua University

The Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication hosted a roundtable discussion on EU-China Strategic Communication called “Images, Trust and Public Relations” on October 10 and 11, 2019. More than 60 participants, including scholars, government officials, professionals, and journalists, from both China and Europe, joined the discussion. The participants gathered at Tsinghua to discuss the current situation and future development of China-EU communications. The delegates were from nations including China, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. Xinhua News Agency also was represented, as were 10 universities, such as Tongji University, Sichuan University, Simon Fraser University and University of Tartu.

              (Group Photo of participants on the first day of the roundtable)

Professor Hu Yu, the administrative dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, and William Fingleton, Head of Press and Information from the EU delegation in China, welcomed the delegates and delivered opening remarks.

Dean Hu pointed out that it is very important to promote mutual trust between the EU and China, since there are many differences. He said friendly communications reduce prejudice, make a better world and help to make more friends in the world. The discussion at Tsinghua is a good platform for China-EU communication and can lead to a better relationship, he said.

                                              (Professor Hu Yu)

The EU’s Fingleton said the discussion was very close to his heart, having lived and worked in China for many years as a journalist and diplomat. He said that China has spent lots of money to build its image, with some success, but some of the money has been wasted. It is important to foster trust, he said, by being transparent and consistent.

                                          (Mr. William Fingleton)

Professor Fan Hong, Director of the National Image Research Center at Tsinghua University, gave the keynote speech to start the discussion. She described the “multi-dimensional approach” and methods to conduct national image research.

                                             (Professor Fan Hong)

The roundtable discussion consisted of four sessions with presentations and group discussions.

At the first session, Associate Professor Zhang Li, Director of the Institute of Public Relations and Strategic Communication of the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, and her doctoral student Xu Zhiyuan delivered a speech on research findings from a project called “Constructing the EU Images and EU-China Relations in Chinese Social Media.” The project was funded by the EU’s Jean Monnet Programme. The research findings generated deep discussions.

                                                     (Dr. Zhang Li)

The second discussion topic was “Communicating the EU and EU-China relations in China.” Dr. Song Lilei from Tongji University compared posts from the social media accounts of The EU Delegation in China and the Department of European Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Liu Yanhong from University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shared her view on anti-foreign bias and its different expressions in Europe and China. Dr. Yang Yifan from East China Normal University discussed the certainty and uncertainty of China-EU relations in academic discourse after Brexit. Xiong Wei from the Department of European Affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared his experience in operating China’s official Weibo account.

In response to some reports of concerns about China-EU relations, Professor Shi Zhiqin of Tsinghua University said China and EU should develop better impressions of each other. He said China has tried to build its image abroad. He is optimistic about improvements in China-EU relations. Professor Feng Zhongping, Deputy Head of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, commented that the differences between China and EU can sometimes be beneficial if the EU and China both try.

In the third and fourth sessions entitled “Communicating China in Europe” and “Country Specific and Issue Specific,” Dr. Huang Yingfen from Simon Fraser University, Dr. Yuan Hang from Sichuan University and Tsinghua doctoral and postgraduate students Florina Lepadatu,Margot Lambilliotte, Wang Peinan and Wang Kaifeng shared their views and findings on China’s image building in Europe and vice versa. Dong Lisheng from the University of Tartu raised questions of reality, strategy and stereotype, which influence the strategic communication between the EU and China.

Ghiti Purlak of the Embassy of Italy said Europeans’ impression of China may be more likely to come from their daily contact with Chinese citizens or from working and studying in China.

Director of the Institute of Public Relations and Strategic Communication Zhang Li made concluding remarks. She expressed sincere appreciation to all participants in this roundtable discussion. She said that the event was a very inspiring and thoughtful discussion from academics, politicians, professionals  and media practitioners. She said this was an important step to improve the images of the EU and China, and to build trust in each other.