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Public Diplomacy With Chinese Characteristics

File image of the regular press briefing by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. Greg Baker/ AFP

Many observers were caught off guard when Wu Peng, China’s top diplomat for sub-Saharan Africa, publicly condemned Chinese companies engaged in illegal activities in the DRC and announced the intention of the Chinese government to prosecute them at home. However, coming from him, it shouldn’t really be a surprise. After all, this isn’t the first time he ditched the official Chinese diplomatic playbook. While serving as the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, he gave a rare candid interview to a BBC journalist.

More notably, he met with deCOALonize a coalition of civil society organizations campaigning against an extremely controversial Chinese-led coal-fired power plant planned for a world heritage site. The group had struggled for three years to get an audience with Wu’s colleagues at the embassy. His decision to meet with them was a major departure from the usual unbreakable bond between Chinese corporations and Chinese embassies. Suddenly it seemed possible for Chinese diplomats to communicate on a human level, and to appear as more than apologists for the latest environmental outrage perpetrated by Chinese corporate stakeholders.

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