Public diplomacy games: a comparative study of American and Japanese responses to the interplay of nationalism, ideology and Chinese soft power strategies around the 2008 Beijing Olympics


The Olympic Games are global communication events that offer host-nations the unique opportunity to promote a soft power agenda by allowing them to construct global messages about their cultural identities and work towards public diplomacy goals that may be more difficult to achieve under normal circumstances. At the same time, however, the Olympics accentuate nationalist and patriotic sentiment, especially in host-nations. Nationalist conviction must be conceptually differentiated from support for the national government. Indeed, we suggest that one of the tasks of governments of Olympic host cities is to manage strong nationalist emotions in order that they support the public diplomacy efforts associated with the Olympic Games. In this paper, American and Japanese media responses to the interplay of China's 2008 Olympics public diplomacy efforts and Chinese nationalism are comparatively analyzed for each of three periods: 1) the international torch relay; 2) the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; 3) the Olympic Games. Our findings suggest that in the West, the Chinese nationalism that was prompted by a controversial torch relay overpowered other aspects of the Games and that thus the Olympic Games ultimately gave new power to familiar discourses emphasizing a fear of China. In Japan, on the other hand, the Olympics presented modest, albeit important, new opportunities to test and promote positive portrayals of Sino-Japanese relations.


Christopher J. Finlay
Xin Xin
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