Opinion Brief

China invades Times Square: Can a PR offensive woo Americans?

China has launched a massive "diplomacy campaign" coinciding with President Hu Jintao's Washington visit. But commentators aren't sure the big publicity push will work

The video: To coincide with President Hu Jintao's Washington visit, China has launched a massive PR blitz — or, as the Chinese state news agency Xinhua calls it, "a public diplomacy campaign." Earlier this week, China began running a 60-second spot called "Experience China" (or, the "less catchy" Chinese title: "Chinese National Image Film — People Chapter") on six huge, billboard-size screens in New York's Times Square. The video, which features a montage of 50 Chinese celebrities (though not all are actually Chinese citizens), is slated to run 15 times an hour, 20 hours a day until Valentine's Day. A 30-second version of the spot is also airing on CNN until mid-February. (Watch a video of Times Square version, below.)
The reaction: "If the intent is to teach Americans about the Chinese, the campaign falls woefully short," says Isaac Stone Fish in Newsweek. While "hardly offensive," it's "unlikely" that 60 "boring" seconds of smiling Chinese celebrities will "inspire Americans to learn Mandarin." And the ads have "a risk of backfiring," says Gady Epstein in Forbes. While "there is no question China has to work on its public relations," the campaign "raises the larger philosophical question, especially in the case of human rights, of whether China has an image problem with the West, or a reality problem." Watch for yourself and see:

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