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Sino-American relations and stories - Political Science panel highlights

By BRYAN ROMBOT | Staff Writer With rocky relations between the United States and China, it is difficult to break the diplomatic ice. A nation needs to effectively telegraph its intentions to better-communicate with others, as LIU’s Professor Michael J. Jordan explored in a seminar moderated by Dr. Dalia Fahmy, on Tuesday, April 6. Jordan explained that communication is critical for political, social, and economic issues.

Professor Michael J. Jordan presenting at the panel

Professor Jordan stated the importance of communication, particularly in Sino-American relations: “If you care about the economy, then you must pay attention to how the Chinese communicate about these issues. If you care about human rights around the world, then you’re paying attention to what the Chinese might say about Xinjiang, where the Uyghur Muslims reside. If you care about matters of War and Peace, you’re paying attention to China’s actions in the South China Sea regarding Taiwan. If you care about Democracy, how does China communicate about Hong Kong, and so on.”

Jordan was also keen to notice that people often ignore official media streams. “We don’t often check press releases from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or companies, from business organizations, from the United Nations. Very often, we’re also hearing about China through the foreign media coverage. I do see this as a two-way street; part of China’s global communications challenge is not just what the Chinese say, how they say it, why they say, what they say, also how it’s then filtered to us,” he added.

When covering the former Yugoslavia, Jordan remarked: “It was my first lesson in global communications, except at the time, I didn’t realize it was global communications. I had to learn about international audiences. My first audience were my editors. What kind of stories did they want? Why those stories? How they wanted those stories? Fact-based, evidence-driven, humanized stories, and then I learned about the readership. Who are our readers?” Jordan saw how people lived in times of war. He learned the basics of storytelling from his developing relationships and bonds with those he met to pursue truth, formulating news narratives from them.

When describing the types of readers that the media may encounter, he emphasized that there are two types of readers, ‘sheep-like’ and ‘critical thinking’ readers. “The first kind are (with all due respect) quite sheep-like, and that’s unthinking, blindly following, blindly consuming, what they’re told, and then there’s the second audience, more critical thinking. High expectations, they’re smart but skeptical and demanding credible, concrete, even verifiable evidence,” said Jordan.

Jordan then recalled his first encounter with Chinese students in the Czech Republic when teaching in Prague. Students and teachers from Hong Kong Baptist University met Professor Jordan in 2008 and 2009, and asked him to teach in Hong Kong.

“These students were appreciative of this opportunity. These young Chinese were very enthusiastic, very appreciative of the ability to leave the mainland. To be studying in English overseas, but also to learn about the world around them,” said Jordan. He also remarked that Chinese students immersed themselves in Facebook, social media, and the world. Interacting with those students in the Czech Republic and Hong Kong allowed Jordan to learn Chinese’s actual auspices, and conversely for his Chinese students to know an American like him.

In mainland China, Jordan noted that the past held sway over their present. “This is important to know because I came across many friends and colleagues and students who were very appreciative, deeply appreciative to the Chinese government, the Communist Party of China, to President Xi Jinping. That they were genuinely, it seems, very appreciative because they all had memories from their grandparents and before of hard times. Of deprivation, of famine, of death.”

In terms of portraying China on the global stage, Jordan noted, “The Chinese were very frustrated and had been for many years as to how the International Community was perceiving of their growth, of their expansion of their efforts globally and President Xi, for several years now, has spoken of the need for the Chinese, for Chinese media to ‘tell China’s stories well.’”

Jordan realized that while the Chinese people were good at storytelling, there was a problem with projecting their message with the Western world. Jordan remarked: “When it came to the Western audience, they were struggling with how to effectively, persuasively tell their stories.” He realized that storytelling was part of China’s efforts to project soft power.

He continued: “I also learned that this was part of a broader campaign of China’s soft power campaign. Hard power, meaning military or economic power. In this case, cultural power or the use of Media, the Arts, entertainment, film, but especially Media.” Jordan told the audience that the Chinese government had invested heavily in their media outlets (CCTV, CGTN, China Daily, and The Global Times.) The Chinese wanted to win hearts and minds. Hearing China well was their goal, and Jordan helped with how to get their message through.

Jordan said: “Therein lies the challenge is how to present this as a true win-win because the Chinese, one of the problems with the Chinese, with Chinese communicators is that they tend to speak in quite flowery terms. They also tend from our perspective, from a Western journalistic skeptical perspective, they rarely back their words.” Jordan told the audience that the Chinese tended to use eloquent and vague terms. But there was no concrete evidence.

Regarding the aggressive Weltpolitik policy in Jinping’s China, Jordan said that postering is pointless. Jordan said: “Now it’s been going on for a year, or two years. The Chinese are very smart people. They will assess, I imagine, all this with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We’re getting tough; we’re cheering them on to get tougher, to get muscular with their words and their deeds, but is it working? Quite simply, is it working? What are you achieving versus antagonizing?”

Jordan’s big takeaway at the seminar was a three-pronged chart where he identified where readers would lie (Pro-China, Anti-China, and In-Between). Jordan said, “We have the Anti-China crowd. They’re anti-China for some reason, and nothing positive will ever change their mind on China. They hate China for some reason; they hate the Chinese for some reason. There’s no budging them. You should write them off. On the other end of the spectrum is the Pro-China crowd. For some reason, they love China; they love the Chinese, and nothing negative you tell them about China will ever puncture their notion about China and the Chinese. They are on the Chinese side, and then there are those in-between, those on the fence who could swing either way.”

Jordan taught his colleagues the trick to target the middle crowd, and he told the audience it was key to provide evidence. He concluded saying, “The most effective way to reach that audience, that smart but skeptical audience is with concrete, credible, and verifiable evidence because that touches the mind of a skeptic. If you present your evidence with hyperlinks to primary sources showing your evidence, on the other hand, to humanize, put a human face because that could touch the heart of a skeptic.” He said that there must be proof present in the actions of what China was doing. To show people that what is worthwhile, there must be verifiable evidence and proof.

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