The role of public sentiment and social media in the evolving China–Africa relationship

The role of public sentiment and social media in the evolving China–Africa relationship

The demands of public diplomacy have shifted with the development of social media technologies. Increasingly, governments are required to gauge and respond to public sentiment over and above the one-way communication of broadcast media.

The paper seeks to make sense of the evolving nature of public diplomacy and what the involvement of public sentiment means for the future of China–Africa relations.

The paper discusses:

  • public diplomacy in a digitised information age and how the increase in access to information and communication is diffusing foreign-policy decision making in China
  • how the point of engagement between China and Africa, as well as the degree of possible influence, is also determined by Africa’s own processes and developments (i.e.: of communication technology)

The author summarises that:

  • China’s experience demonstrates that its influence over the foreign-policy process is complex and varied. Although decision making remains opaque, internal changes are producing an active negotiation process, including a change in leadership and the rising role of online public sentiment. Coupled with these developments are future trends that could affect the nature of public opinion. These include technological developments, the rising youth demographic and nationalism
  • on the other hand, it is Africa that is leapfrogging communication technology. Despite this trend, South Africa has demonstrated the limits of social media influence in decision making. In this inherently divided society, social media is not taken up as a policy negotiation tool but rather as a means for information and social interaction

  • although public opinion is difficult to measure online, sentiment (and a lack thereof) is able to provide an indication of the future direction of China–Africa relations. Both countries’ larger public remains disinterested in the relationship unless it affects their immediate environment (which emphasises economic concerns). The future China–Africa relationship depends on public diplomacy on both sides. and social interaction


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