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Beijing’s cultural diplomacy efforts in Pakistan: Building soft image through internet sources
The Korean Journal of International Studies 20-3 (December 2022), 407-436
Published online December 31, 2022
© 2022 The Korean Association of International Studies.

Abdul Razaque Larik, Shah Nawaz Mangi, and Syed Gulzar Ali Shah Bukhari [Bio-Data]
Received September 30, 2022; Revised October 18, 2022; Accepted November 30, 2022.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This study investigated the role of internet sources in depicting China’s cultural soft image in Pakistan. Using mixed-method approach, it examined six Chinese culturally-oriented web sources and employed the conceptualization of Hartig (2016). Chinese cultural diplomacy in Pakistan was found engaging a wide range of actors, allowing for local actors to play active role, using modern media, and promoting cultural content interactively. The results suggest positive contribution of China Xinhua Urdu, Youlin Magazine, China Radio International Urdu and Pakistan China Institute internet sources. The Culture & Arts page of Chinese Embassy in Pakistan and Nihao-Salam websites were found dormant. The results found females, older and more educated individuals to be more likely to perceive positively-oriented experiences about Chinese culture than their counterparts. The study highlights that more enriched means and improved content on the internet sources should be brought to attract more male, younger, ordinary, and less educated internet users.
Keywords : Cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, soft power, Sino-Pakistan relations, internet sources

The initiation and gradual development of the multibillion, cross-continental project by China, called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and aimed at creating connectivity and trade between a large number of states points to a Chinese ‘historical self’ related to trade, expansion, and peaceful contacts between different cultures (Shafqat 2017). The initiative may have a primarily economic character but one can hardly miss its cultural connotations (Miao 2021). By dint of this initiative and a host of other means, Beijing intends to showcase its soft power instead of its already established hard power (Duarte et al. 2021) with its renewed attention towards the long ignored people-to-people contact (Junior and Rodrigues 2020). On the one hand, the open character of BRI combines and incorporates many of the existing bilateral and multilateral institutions creating possibilities for public diplomacy (Shafqat 2017) and on the other, it opens a wide range of possibilities for intercultural communication and the practice of public diplomacy (Winter 2020), a part of which is cultural diplomacy (Cull 2008).

Even in cases of strong bilateral ties, as those between China and Pakistan, cultural diplomacy has to play an important role in redefining the relations in the context of BRI where out of its six proposed corridors, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the sub-project that connects Western China to the shores of Arabian Sea through Gwadar Port of Pakistan and provides China access to the Middle-Eastern oil resources (Shafqat 2017). The strong Sino-Pakistan ties historically streamline the political, economic and military spheres being dubbed as all-weather friendship that started in 1950s (Safdar 2021). However, some scholars maintain that the ties are security-oriented (Boon and Ong 2021) and overplayed by economy (Safdar 2021). This has resulted in the huge outcry from the scholars that Sino-Pakistan ties should also address the least-attended cultural area and generate a real atmosphere where people to people contact is accorded equal meaning akin to the politico-economic and security ties (Kabraji 2012; Khalid 2015; Price 2011; Studies 2014; Zeb 2012).

There exists scholarship attentive to the domain of soft power, public diplomacy, and cultural diplomacy vis-à-vis China linking it with Middle Eastern nations (Ma 2010), ASEAN countries (Shuto 2018), Malaysia (Hrubý and Petrů 2019), USA (Becard and Filho 2019), and Pakistan (Gui and Arif 2016). The discourse has attempted to explore various dimensions of Chinese diplomacy, such as Confucius institutes (Hartig 2012, 2014, 2014; Liu 2019; Pan 2013; Shuto 2018); translation (Jiang 2021); museum diplomacy (Wang 2018); panda diplomacy (Hartig 2013), international higher education (Mulvey 2019), cinema (Becard and Filho 2019), image management (Hartig 2019) and engagement (Safdar 2021).

However, despite the plethora of scholarly works, the attention to the investigation of the cultural portrayal of China in Pakistan has been dismal. The study by Gui and Arif (2016) investigated a variety of institutions with a focus on Chinese language learning, role of mass media and institutions but did not include internet sources. The recently published report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Safdar 2021) only included news-associated domains and did not take into account internet sources. Scholars suggest that Beijing should invest more in employing modern technologies for its cultural image-building (Gui and Arif 2016). Therefore, the current study aims to explore the main research questions: ‘what is role of internet sources in portraying China’s cultural diplomacy in Pakistan?’. This is imperative because of the three major reasons. First, the role of internet for the promotion of cultural image of China in Pakistan is badly ignored since there has been no study streamlining the role of internet sources in aiding cultural diplomacy. Second, none of the studies have employed the theoretical conceptualization of Hartig (2016), which is likely to produce useful contribution. Last, methodologically, this inquiry used mixed method research design, which is almost non-existent in the domain of Sino-Pakistan diplomacy. Consequently, the present study will be a useful addition to the body of the literature.

Moreover, the case of Pakistan is selected for two reasons. First, it plays a major role in the context of BRI in the region through CPEC. Second, it has experienced multicultural influence. For example, the aggregate marks of the native culture can be traced back to 2500 BC; however, with the advent of Islam in the Sub-Continent, the region came under the influence of Arab culture. The influence of Arab culture declined with the arrival of the British. At present, the society is under the influence of western culture, partly due to the impact of globalization. China’s cultural influence through CPEC is likely to be a new addition to multifaceted culture of Pakistan. Furthermore, scholars also argue that to examine the complex relations of the variables, a case study is an enriched method (Baxter and Jack 2008). Therefore, the case of Pakistan is ripe to examine cultural influence of China.


Soft facet of power

Power occupies a central place in international politics. National power is most often utilized by actors in order to obtain strategic imperatives, where the needs and circumstances determine the use of various forms of power: hard or soft (Lee 2011). The hard power implies the use of a country’s military and economic capacity to influence other states (Duarte et al. 2021); whereas soft power refers to the process to achieve specific targets through attraction and development of state’s cultural values by influencing others (Nye 2004). States carve out their positive image through soft power in foreign countries using the channel of public diplomacy, which acts as a communication tool (Hartig 2016).

Cultural diplomacy

Once an under-explored area (Kim 2017), cultural diplomacy has redeemed its stature (Hartig 2014) and today, it is a part of the mainstream IR discourse (Isar and Triandafyllidou 2020). Sharp (2005, 106) describes, “Public diplomacy [is] defined as a process by which direct relations with people in a country are pursued to advance the interests and extend the values of those being represented”. The importance of public diplomacy is directly linked with public opinion or perception regarding that country. For public diplomacy to be successful, positive image of a country among foreigners is of fundamental import. According to the taxonomy of Cull (2008) public diplomacy comprises five types and cultural diplomacy is one of them. Therefore, we can distinguish that public diplomacy includes all the activities by a nation to portray itself to the rest of the globe while cultural diplomacy is an expression of country’s culture. “Cultural diplomacy is an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through making its cultural resources and achievements known overseas and/or facilitating cultural transmission abroad” (Cull 2008, 33). It encompasses promotion of various forms of arts, societal harmony, civic engagement, and cultural exchange (Isar and Triandafyllidou 2020). On account of its ever-growing importance and popularity, the current discourse appears to steadily replace the oft-used terms of “soft power and cultural diplomacy with cultural soft power” (Becard and Filho 2019). Therefore, states employ cultural diplomacy as their soft power instrument for the achievement of their foreign policy goals (Hartig 2012; Isar and Triandafyllidou 2020).

Unlike traditional diplomacy, cultural diplomacy does not expect anything in return except the influence. It allows the agencies to develop a foundation of trust in the targeted country. One of the unique and most useful elements of cultural diplomacy is its capability to reach non-elites, non-ruling class and youth which traditional diplomacy is unable to do. Furthermore, diplomacy is a pattern to achieve the pre-set targets of the state. For this purpose, provision of information and negotiation are the basic tasks to be performed by the diplomats. In both of these fundamental elements of diplomacy, internet can be of great use in the modern World. Since last two decades, internet has taken the task of the information provision in a smooth method. This information is not limited to the ruling elite only as done by the diplomats but to everyone who are interested.

China’s cultural diplomacy

Since last two decades, Chinese’s agencies are focusing on cultural diplomacy in order to utilize cultural influence to have a constructive image of state’s policies and peoples. The global image that China carved out by dint of Beijing Olympics in 2008 pushed Beijing to rethink their image-building endeavors and focus on cultural aspect through soft power (Arifon 2019). Since then, China has been devoting impressive efforts to enhance her soft power capabilities and her portrayal through the power of culture. Besides hard power, the Chinese government felt the need to portray a positive, peaceful and responsible image in world politics because of her aspiration to be a major global player (d'Hooghe 2007) and in recent years, Beijing has quite artistically and successfully manipulated the channel of cultural diplomacy (Becard and Filho 2019). On account of its dedicated efforts, China has been included among the top 30 successful countries in the world that employ soft power according to Soft Power 30 report 2019 (McClory 2019).

As regards the bilateral ties between Pakistan and China, despite diverse political beliefs, system of governance, economy, culture, and social system, the relationship between the two neighbours presents an exceptional case in global politics (Zeb 2012). For most part of its bilateral ties with Pakistan, China has predominantly opted for hard power where China has been helpful in assisting Pakistan for attaining nuclear and missile system capability, supplying and helping in the manufacturing of fighter jets, tanks and conventional weapons, and offering economic and diplomatic assistance (Boon and Ong 2021). Previously, the relations were elite-centred and skewed in favour of China, nonetheless, since the dawn of the new century, Beijing and Islamabad have restructured the politico-economic ties after free trade agreement in 2007 and CPEC in 2015 (Hussain et al. 2020). Owing to the strategic importance and long-standing friendly relations between the two countries, especially after the initiation of CPEC, China is eager to construct deep-rooted relations based on mutual interest addressing the demands of the current time (Junior and Rodrigues 2020). China has recently initiated the people-centred policy in place of elite-centred using the tools of international media with local roots of engagement through Chinese language teaching institutes, access of Chinese media in Urdu language, educational exchange, and media (Safdar 2021). These renewed efforts are aimed at countering anti-China stance, propagating Chinese state policies (Arifon 2019; Miao 2021), and promoting Chinese culture (Gui and Arif 2016). This helps Chinese government to persuade greater collaboration between Pakistan and China.

The discourse has attempted to explore various critical perspectives of China’s soft power. Several scholars have highlighted the role of Confucius institutes (Hartig 2012, 2014, 2016; Liu 2019; Pan 2013; Shuto 2018). Others have underscored panda diplomacy (Hartig 2013). Some scholars have stressed the role of translation of different works for international audience as a means of soft power (Jiang 2021) while others have diverted the scholarly attention towards the role of museums in the portrayal of soft power (Wang 2018). A number of works have pointed out the role of international higher education (Mulvey 2019), the influence of cinema (Becard and Filho 2019).

Instruments of cultural diplomacy

The instruments of cultural diplomacy may pertain to the combination of what (Nye 2004) called high culture, which keeps instruments that appeal to the elite of a particular country; and popular culture, which employs the instruments attracting general public. Cultural diplomacy was traditionally carried out employing a variety of tools, for instance music, art, and media, which included TV and cinema (Becard and Filho 2019). In a broader perspective, the word “‘cultural’ in cultural diplomacy has been understood to include radio and television, exchange programs, and language education.” (Clarke 2020). The growing access and popularity of internet and social media among masses has compelled the states to exploit this medium for the portrayal of their respective cultures. Like other states, Beijing employs a host of instruments to conduct its cultural diplomacy worldwide using various forms of media i.e. TV, cinema, radio, internet, and language institutes (Becard and Filho 2019) engaging both state and non-state actors for this purpose (d'Hooghe 2007).

Targeted Internet Sources

The dawn of twenty first century has brought in the indispensable role of information communication technology. Scholars have pointed out that Beijing is using the tool of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and so forth to forward its own worldview (Hartig 2019; Safdar 2021). Regarding China’s efforts at highlighting its culture in Pakistan, after a careful survey of internet sources, we identified six web-sources. We started by visiting the Culture and Arts webpage of Chinese Embassy in Islamabad website This webpage provides information on higher education in China, Chinese Government Scholarships, and cultural exchanges (Pakistan). The second internet source was the website of China Radio Online Urdu (CRI Urdu) The Urdu version of CRI is one of the 45 presentations managed by Beijing that offers information on China, Pakistan and the globe with its focus on Chinese history, politics, economy and culture specially featuring Chinese language and cultural depiction. The third internet source was Pakistan China Institute (PCI) website. PCI is the parent internet source that runs two other websites: Youlin Magazine (YM) and Nihao-Salam (NS). PCI “is the first of its kind “non-governmental, non-partisan and non-political think-tank” that strives for the promotion of people-to-people connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing particularly targeting the young population and females (Institute). Founded in 2009, it aims to advance Chinese culture and language and assist educational and cultural institutions from both countries to collaborate (Gui and Arif 2016). The fourth source was the website of Youlin Magazine (YM), The YM website dubs itself “An online cultural journal of Pakistan and China” and also calls itself a “cultural website” with a fundamental “purpose of fostering a better socio-cultural understanding” between Pakistan and China (Magazine). The fifth source was Nihao-Salam (NS) website. NS is a magazine about China Pakistan relations, cooperation, friendship and news (Nihao-salam ). The last internet source was the Facebook page of China Xinhua Urdu (CXU) This CXU internet source is the subset of larger Chinese state-owned entity that has been seeking help from local non-state Pakistani actors to get its message transferred to the larger chunk of Pakistani population via its Urdu feature (Safdar 2021). Currently, CXU has the largest number (1.064 million) of followers in comparison to the other five (China Xinhua Urdu).


The concept of the soft power was streamlined and brought into prominence by Joseph Nye (1990). He suggests that soft power refers to the process to achieve specific targets through attraction and emphasis on state’s cultural values by influencing others (Nye 2004). For Cull (2008, 33) “Cultural diplomacy is an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through making its cultural resources and achievements known overseas and/or facilitating cultural transmission abroad”. More recent scholarship suggests that cultural diplomacy should be considered as an intersectional concept of new public diplomacy and international cultural relations (Kim 2017). It includes the promotion of various forms of arts, societal harmony, civic engagement, and cultural exchange (Isar and Triandafyllidou 2020). On account of its ever-growing importance and popularity, the current discourse appears to steadily replace the oft-used terms of “soft power and cultural diplomacy with cultural soft power” (Becard and Filho 2019). Therefore, states employ cultural diplomacy as their soft power instrument for the achievement of their foreign policy goals (Hartig 2012; Isar and Triandafyllidou 2020). The present study exploited the four major components of soft power which were conceptualized by Hartig (2016). We employed his conceptualization because it was contemporary, precise, and expansive. His work is extensively related to the main research question of the current study. His works address public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy with special interest in China’s cultural diplomacy efforts.

Based on the ideas of Hartig (2016), we conceptualized cultural diplomacy as an act of communication in the context of the new public diplomacy, which consists of the following four components: a) A range of actors involved in promoting, transmitting, and giving meaning to cultural goods; the recent years have witnessed an expansion in the range of actors involved that do not consist only of states but also of non-state actors, such as “education and cultural organisations, NGOs, journalists, political parties, citizen groups or business associations” (Hartig 2016, 35). b) The target audience, which is not just elites potentially involved in foreign policy decision-making, but “elites or opinion leaders, such as teachers, journalists, writers, intellectuals or civil society representative, are traditionally seen as the target audience” on account of their capacity to influence large number of other people and wider publics, in particular dynamic groups of the population like young people (Hartig 2016, 38-39). It is important to point out that the audience is not seen as passive recipients of information but as active participants in the act of communication and co-creators of its meaning (Hartig 2016). c) The tools used in the conduct of cultural diplomacy, which have also seen a rapid expansion in the last few decades notably because of communication revolution. We employed the tool of “social media” (Hartig 2016, 46) and internet sources and further divided them into various forms of online books, magazines, documentaries, podcasts, and news. d) The content of cultural diplomacy, which we adopted, makes the widely assumed distinctions between “high culture” that is for the elites of society broadly covering various forms of arts, literary activities, and education and “popular culture” signifying to various forms of entertainment enjoyed by all the masses alike without any prequalification to engage in it (Hartig 2016, 35-41) referred to as ‘specialized’ or ‘general/popular’ respectively.

To address the key question, this study investigated the role of six identified internet sources in the portrayal of Chinese cultural diplomacy efforts in Pakistan, and to observe if China has been successful in creating people-to-people connectivity under the umbrella of strong politico-economic and security-driven Sino-Pakistan ties. In this connection, following the guidelines of (Hartig 2016), we endeavored to explore what actors were involved, what type of means of communication was employed, what were the target audiences and what were the various forms the content of the internet sources in the light of theoretical conceptualization. With respect to China’s efforts at highlighting its culture in Pakistan, after a careful survey of internet sources, we identified six web-sources. The criteria set for the identification of internet sources aligned with the main question of the study i.e. direct or indirect portrayal of Chinese culture and soft image of China.


Based on the guidelines of Hair et al. (2010) that variables must be founded on some theory, we used the conceptualization of Hartig (2016), which in the research domain of IR, submits that a set of constructs, such as a range of actors, target audience, tools, and the content play an imperative role in promoting cultural diplomacy and a country’s soft image. Subsequently, to explore the importance of these key variables in portraying China’s cultural diplomacy efforts in Pakistan, a mixed method exploratory sequential design was employed. This method was selected for a better understanding of the contradictions as well as connections between the empirical data collected through quantitative and qualitative techniques (Nind et al. 2020). By using this method, researchers can observe a more panoramic view of research to deliver trustworthy findings. It provides diverse lenses to researchers through which various phenomena can be measured from different viewpoints (Ghiara 2020). At first stage, in order to obtain and analyze qualitative data, internet sources depicting cultural content were examined, while for the quantitative data, a field survey was conducted in Karachi and Islamabad to examine the role of internet sources in affecting Pakistanis’ views regarding Chinese cultural diplomacy and soft power from August to October 2021. The cities of Karachi and Islamabad were selected because of the diplomatic importance.

Procedures for qualitative survey

In order to collect the qualitative data related to China’s cultural diplomacy in Pakistan, snowball sampling technique was used (Figure-1). This particular technique, used in qualitative studies, employs chain or referral system where the probable sample starts with a single entity, which is later added through referral of the primary source like a snowball rolling and adding more and more (Neuman 2014). In case of the current study, we started by visiting the CE webpage. It referred us to CRI Urdu website and YM. The YM webpage directed towards its parent webpage of PCI. The PCI website guided to its two constituent internet sources i.e. NS and Facebook page of CXU. Following the advice of Becard and Filho (2019), we included the Facebook page of Chinese state-funded media platform CXU on account of its contribution to the depiction of Chinese culture.

Procedures for quantitative survey

Although, qualitative method was our main source of data collection, at second stage, quantitative data was also collected through a questionnaire to cross-check the accuracy of the data and filter the results from researcher’ biasness. On the basis of the themes emerging from the qualitative data, and following the dictates of Hartig (2016), we proposed the hypothesis that participants having greater attachment and actual experiences with Chinese culturally-oriented internet sources will perceive the positive aspects about China as compared to those whose attachment is less or they possess negative experiences. Additionally, we also assumed that the target audience, possessing various demographic characteristics (gender, age, educational level, and workplace), also have an influence on changed perceptions about China as a result of visiting the web sources. To measure the participants’ experiences with Chinese culture via internet sources, we added the items by asking the participants how often they visited the six identified web sources on 5-point Likert scale ranging from “1 = never” to “5 = always”. To measure the participants’ perceptions about China as a result of visiting the internet sources, nine items were added: Chinese people, history, food, festivals, dressing, education, language, culture, and China. After developing the initial pool of items, the questionnaire was sent to three experts for ensuring the validity of the items. Based on their comments and feedback, language and layout of the items were modified.

Before administering the questionnaire on target population, respondent- driven pilot study with four participants was carried out by applying a think-aloud method for assessing the appropriateness of the items included in the questionnaire. Ericsson and Simon (1980, suggested that the principal aim of think-aloud method is to acquire facts about the participants’ interpretation of the item in the same way as the researcher assumed. Based on the participants’ recalled experiences related to the statements, few redundant words were modified in the final version of the questionnaire. A final version of the questionnaire was distributed among the respondents employing purposive sampling strategy. During the process of data collection, the ethical considerations, such as permission from the competent authorities were obtained, the aim of study was explained to the participants, and they were also informed about confidentiality, anonymity, volunteer nature of participation, and their right to withdraw at any point.


Founded on the theoretical guidelines from Hartig (2016), the findings focused on four major areas: actors involved, target audience, tools, and content:

Actors involved

Both state and non-state actors, such as academic and cultural organizations, NGOs and business entities can engage in the process of cultural diplomacy. In the past, it was primarily promoted by the governments through institutions and diplomats; however, there has been a shift in the traditional and unilateral method (Cooper 2019). For the last two decades, non-state actors, with or without the help of state-actors, have been involved in the promotion of public diplomacy. The survey of internet sources portraying Chinese cultural influence in Pakistan points to a combination of state and non-state actors. While the CE, CRI Urdu, and CXU point to state-actors, the actors involved for PCI and its partner web sources NS and YM signalled to non-state actors. CRI and XNU are aided by local Pakistani non-state actors. However, the non-state actors are, more or less, aided by the state actors with Chinese finance, symbolic attendance and manpower assistance in the form of the availability of native Chinese personnel; whereas Pakistan appears to act as a supplier of infrastructure, physical-resources and official patronage. This tallies with the theoretical perspective of (Hartig 2016), who maintained that although most actors are of non-state origin, they are, directly or indirectly, affiliated to the country whose content is being portrayed; and Beijing recognizes the role of non-state actors.

Target audience

The target audience may pertain to “elites or opinion leaders, such as teachers, journalists, intellectuals or civil society, are traditionally seen as the target audience” (Hartig 2016, 38-39) on account of their capacity to influence large number of other people and wider publics, in particular dynamic groups of the population like young people. The audience is not seen as passive recipients of information but as active participants in the act of communication and co-creators of its meaning. The internet sources under survey aim different types of target audience. The primary target of CE, PCI, YM and NS is the educated class. Among the educated category, young students appear to the core target. CE offers assistance to the scholarship aspirants. PCI and CRI websites also attend common (non-specialized) citizens. CRI has introduced Chinese language courses taught in Urdu for ordinary people with low to moderate level of education. PCI also centres its attention on women, government officials and civic leaders.


We divided the tools used by internet sources into online books, magazines, documentaries, podcasts, and culture-related news. The surveyed internet sources have been discovered employing a variety of means for the purpose of representing Chinese culture. YM, CRI, CXU, and PCI were found to have vibrant podcast sections on their internet sources. The most exhaustive source on Chinese culture can be found on YM that depicts Chinese culture from ancient to the most contemporary aspects. YM and CXU carry a wide pictorial selection. CRI Urdu keeps audio-recordings and editorials in Urdu language. PCI has published a number of books. CXU, CRI, and PCI also place current news especially centred on China and Pakistan. PCI, YM, NS, CXU, and CRI invite viewers for comments. YM and NS invite visitors for discussion. CRI maintains extensive survey tools for visitors to ask questions while PCI offers visitors to write research or viewpoint articles. YM attracts its audience through entertaining stuff and CE website magnetizes scholarship aspirants.


The content of the sites under survey were divided into high and popular culture representation. Hartig (2016), argues that high cultural depiction attracts the elite of a society while popular culture pertains to general public. The survey suggests that PCI, YM, NS, and CE highlights high culture for specialized audiences. PCI asks its viewers to share research or opinion articles; YM offers a book review section. CE aims for the dissemination of Chinese government scholarship information and attends Sino-Pakistan cultural ties; while NS specializes in informing on education in China. PCI and CRI specifically target Chinese language learning with both formal and informal modes of education. PCI has published a number of books, for instance Xi Jinping: On Governance, travelogues written by Prof. Li Xiguang from Tsinghua University and by an eminent Pakistani author Mustansar Hussain Tarar and a Handbook on Relations between China and a Monograph Series: Corridors, Culture and Connectivity. CRI Urdu, YM, and CXU internet sources reveal popular culture. Four out of six surveyed sites were found interacting with audiences in English and Chinese languages; only two internet sources i.e. CRI Urdu and CXU appeared fully-loaded in Urdu. CRI Urdu has adopted a popular as well as modern cultural approach by introducing Chinese language courses taught in Urdu addressing the ‘popular’ cluster of audiences. NS has Chinese language learning features both in Urdu and English although they are dysfunctional. CRI Urdu has uploaded a documentary, Rising China, available in English and Urdu that describes modern Chinese life-style exhibiting the modernization of China with special focus on the life of Muslims. CRI Urdu and YM aim to highlight Chinese culture via popular media: art, film, music, cuisine, sports, podcast and pictorial presentation. CRI has also introduced a variety of down to earth surveys like viewers’ survey and China-style survey.


Respondents’ demography

A total of 102 useful samples were collected. Due to the patriarchal nature of the society, male respondents were found in majority (62.7%), while females were in minority (37.3%). The respondents’ age group was divided into four groups: 21 (20.6%) belonging to 17-22 years, 29 (28.4%) were 23-28-year-old, 36 (35.3%) belonging to 29-34 years, and 16 (15.7%) were of 35 years or older.

Similarly, respondents having MS/MPhil degree were found in majority while eight participants had intermediate education. Despite their low education level, these eight respondents were included because of the time they spent in both China and Pakistan. Individuals belonging to four categories of workplace were selected: embassies (Karachi and Islamabad), university faculty members belonging to the teaching departments of Political Science, Pakistan Studies, International Relations and Economics, people from Pakistan’s foreign office and individuals who had spent some time in China (Table 2).

Construct validity of the questionnaire

Looking for the substantial cluster of the items, and to check the construct validity of the scale, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was performed using principal component analysis (PCA), Kaiser’s normalization, and varimax rotation procedures. EFA is a statistical technique used for validation of measurements in terms of construct validity and for recognizing the minimum number of factors that may enlighten the order and structure between the measured variables (Watkins 2018). To ensure the assumptions of EFA, a sample sufficiency was ensured through Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy. The values of KMO greater than 0.50 suggest that EFA can be performed (Hair et al. 2010). The KMO values were found 0.926 falling under the threshold ranges. The assumption of overall significance of the correlation matrix was ensured through Bartlett’s test of Sphericity, X2 (105) = 1.417; p < 0.001, which specified that there was a strong relationship between the statements added in the questionnaire. A threshold value of factor correlations greater than ±0.40 was set out as a criterion for holding the items (Watkins 2018). Based on the eigenvalue greater than one, the latent root criterion was chosen as the criteria to determine the number of factors to be extracted (Hair et al. 2010). All the 15 items included in a questionnaire retained support to a two-factor solution. The factor loadings ranging from 0.713 to 0.891 were noted explaining 74.07% of the total variance. The first factor with nine items was recognized as “changed perceptions about China” (eigenvalue=9.253; 61.68% variance) and the second factor, having six items, was named as “experiences and attachment with web sources” (eigenvalue=1.859; 12.39% variance). The results are shown in Table 3.

To check the consistent factorial structure between the two factors, Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated. Between both the factors, statistically significant relationships were observed (see Table 4). For example, the factor “changed perceptions about China” revealed a significant positive correlation with “experiences and attachment with web sources” (r = .644, p < .001). This suggests that both these subscales validated a consistent factor order and structure.

Reliability of the questionnaire

Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient was calculated to check the reliability and internal consistency among the items. Cohen et al. (2007), advised that the alpha value greater than 0.50 is measured as the threshold point; once this value is closer to 1.00, it establishes greater reliability among the statements. In our case, the values of Cronbach’s alpha for both factors were found greater than 0.90 representing that the statements included in the scale were highly reliable. The results are demonstrated in Table 4.

Current status of participants’ experiences and attachment with Chinese web sources

The results of descriptive statistics as demonstrated in Table 3 and Figure 2 reveal that the participants’ attachment and involvement experiences related to six identified internet sources show that majority of the respondents rated positively. Most visited websites were “China Xinhua” (M=3.30; SD=1.02, 57.50%), and “Youlin Magazine (M=3.30; SD=.93, 57.50%), followed by “China Radio International Urdu” (M=3.25; SD=1.02, 56.25%), “Pakistan China Institute” (M=3.23; SD=.86, 55.75%), “Chinese Embassy in Islamabad” (M=3.17; SD=1.08, 54.25%), and “Nihao-Salam ” (M=3.11; SD=.99, 52.75%).

Current status of participants’ changed perceptions about China as a result of visiting Chinese websites

The participants showed that as a result of their attachment and involvement experiences with the six identified web sources, their perceptions were greatly changed about the key cultural aspects of China (Table 2, Figure 3). For instance, the participants’ rated mean scores for ‘Chinese history’ was (M=3.83; SD=1.04, 70.75%), for ‘Chinese dressing’ (M=3.76; SD=.93, 69.00%), for ‘Chinese food’ (M=3.75; SD=.94, 68.75%), for ‘Chinese festivals’ (M=3.71; SD=1.03, 67.75%), for ‘Chinese language’ (M=3.70; SD=.97, 67.50%), for ‘China’ (M=3.68; SD=1.19, 67.00%), for ‘Chinese culture’ (M=3.67; SD=1.14, 66.75%), for ‘Chinese education’ (M=3.67; SD=.98, 66.75%), and for ‘Chinese people’ (M=3.58; SD=1.04, 64.50%) revealing that all scores were above average and comparatively high. This suggests that the Chinese government has been partly successful in using internet sources for the promotion of her cultural soft image among the masses of Pakistan.

The effects of demographic factors and experiences with web sources on change in perceptions about China

Further analysis was employed using multiple regression to find out the best predictors of participants’ change in perceptions as a result of visiting the six identified websites. However, before applying the multiple regression, the required assumptions for parametric tests were analyzed as recommended by Hair et al. (2010). No missing cases were found in the dataset. By applying Mahalanobis D2, the outliers were detected. Two responses exceeding from the critical value of chi-square (X2 = 12.592, p = 0.050, df = 6) were removed. Later, the assumption of multicollinearity, which postulates that predictor variables should not extremely associate with each other (Hair et al. 2010), Pearson correlation matrix was inspected wherein the values fell within the threshold level (r=.644<0.90). Furthermore, the multicollinearity was also identified by inspecting the threshold values of tolerance greater than 0.10 and the variance inflation factor (VIF) less than 10 (Hair et al. 2010). The assumption of homoscedasticity suggests, “The variance of the error terms appears constant over a range of predictor variables” (Hair et al. 2010, 34). In addition, the assumption of linearity assumes that the relationship between the variables is linear. Both the linearity and homoscedasticity were assessed through scatter plots of standardized residuals and standardized predicated values of dependent variables and there were no any unusual patterns existing in the plots. To check the assumptions of independent errors, which undertakes that the residuals must be uncorrelated for the pair of observation (Hair et al. 2010). Ensuring this, the Durbin-Watson test was calculated, in which the values of 1.687 and 1.197 were observed and found under the threshold level of no less than 1 and no greater than 3. The assumption of normality proposes, “The sample data corresponds to a normal distribution” (Hair et al. 2010, 35), which was verified through the visualization of histogram and p-p plot and found normally scattered.

After ensuring the basic requirements of multivariate data analysis, a significant regression equation was found [F (5, 96) = 39.152, p = 0.001)] with an adjusted R square of 0.654 by taking the changed perceptions about China as dependent variable and 5 independent variables of participants’ demographic factors (gender, age, education, and workplace), and participants’ experiences with web sources. This indicated that participants’ perceptions about China were significantly influenced and predicted by gender (β = 0.260, p = 0.001 < 0.05), age (β = 0.187, t = 2.833, p = 0.006 < 0.05), education (β = 0.339, t = 5.145, p = 0.001< 0.05), workplace (β = 0.212, t = 2.974, p = 0.004 < 0.05) and experiences with websites (β = 0.229, t = 2.938, p = 0.004 < 0.05), while adjusted R square revealed that 65.4 percent of the variation in participants’ change in perceptions about China was due to these five variables. The results are exhibited in Table 5.

Since all five contributing independent variables revealed a positive value of beta coefficient, which suggests that increasing one unit of standard deviation in all the variables, the participants’ perceptions about China would also increase by the value of beta coefficient. In other words, gender exerted a positive influence of changed perceptions about China, because the base category was coded as 1 for males suggesting that females were more likely to perceive positively-oriented experiences about Chinese culture than their male counterparts were. Similarly, the positive beta for influence of age suggests that participants who were older, had a tendency to perceive better image about Chinese culture than younger ones. Concerning the influence of educational level, positive beta coefficient suggests that participants who possessed higher qualifications were more likely to perceive positive aspects of Chinese culture than people with low qualifications were. Regarding the positive influence of the participants’ workplace, the base category was coded as 1 for “working in embassy”, suggests participants working in universities, Pakistan’s foreign office and individuals having exposure of China were more likely to possess positive change in their perceptions about Chinese culture. The positive beta coefficient for the independent variable of participants’ experiences with Chinese web sources suggests that more positive experiences and involvement with the six identified internet sources produced change in participants’ perceptions about the key cultural aspects of China.


The current study aimed to investigate the role of internet sources in carrying out efforts aimed at Chinese cultural diplomacy in Pakistan. Using the theoretical conceptualization of Hartig (2016), and employing mixed method approach, it focused on actors, target audience, means and content. Both the qualitative and quantitative data offered deep insights. Overall, Chinese cultural diplomacy in Pakistan was found engaging a wide range of actors allowing for local actors to play an active role, using modern media, and promoting cultural content in interactive ways so that its audience can choose the aspects that suit to their needs.

Beijing adapted a few internet media sources as tools of cultural diplomacy to cultivate favourable perceptions about China, and to improve its image. Both the qualitative and quantitative surveys reveal the positive contribution of CXU, YM, CRI Urdu and PCI internet sources. The role of CE and NS web sources was found to be minimal. CXU, YM, CRI Urdu and PCI were found to contribute positively towards the positive portrayal of Chinese culture. Both the qualitative and quantitative data of the internet sources’ survey suggest 4 major themes: mass appeal, versatility, dynamism, and dormancy.

Mass appeal

As the discourse admits that for a successful soft power policy, the understanding of local environment is a prerequisite because “what works in Moscow may not work in Muscat” (Schneider 2003, 4). Chinese cultural diplomacy has found its way into Pakistani social milieu through its portrayal using the lingua franca of Pakistan i.e., Urdu. Via Urdu language, the Chinese cultural content is reachable to the greater number of Pakistani population (Gui and Arif 2016). In this regard, CRI Urdu and CXU have proven their worth. Owing to its Urdu version, the CXU Facebook page has over 1.3 million followers (November 19, 2022). CXU has proven to fill the much-needed gap of attracting large chunks of viewers from Pakistani population on account of its Urdu version (Safdar 2021).

In sharp contrast to China, other big powers, such as USA, UK, and Germany have established their cultural impression in Pakistan through Voice of America, BBC, and DW respectively both in English and Urdu. By using Urdu, these governments have succeeded in creating a firm foundation for deep bilateral connections and cultural linkages with the Pakistani public. Lagging behind, by introducing CXU in Urdu, Beijing has joined the US, UK, and German cultural diplomacy club in Pakistan where information in local language is accessible to the majority of public. The transformation of the message through Urdu and the use of social media platforms for mass appeal have helped Beijing positivize Sino-Pakistan ties and improve people-to-people contact (Safdar 2021). Moreover, in sharp contrast to New Delhi’s efforts at the depiction of its soft image through diaspora used as co-creator of Indian cultural illustration (Isar 2017), Beijing has to find other means, such as internet sources for its own portrayal of soft image.

In line with the hypothesis and the mass appealing nature of most web sources, the view of the Pakistani participants regarding Chinese history, dressing, food, festivals and people changed on account of their visits to the identified websites especially Chinese history, dressing, food, and festivals. This aligns with the findings of a recent report (Safdar 2021). In terms of the target audience, the results suggest that females were more likely to perceive positively-oriented experiences about Chinese culture than males; the participants, who were older, had a tendency to perceive better image about Chinese culture than the younger ones; while individuals possessing higher qualifications were more likely to perceive positive aspects of Chinese culture than those with low qualifications.


The results suggest that almost all the 06 internet sources employed multiple means in depicting the cultural message of China. They were found dynamic in creating a niche market for Beijing to showcase its cultural soft power. CRI Urdu was found versatile possessing videos, audio-recordings, and editorials from topics ranging from Chinese history, modern life, festivals, tourism and encyclopaedia. YM has articles written by both Pakistanis and Chinese on history, festivals, ethnic culture. Its video section also was discovered to be very elaborate and multipurpose attending all aspects of Chinese culture. Likewise, its picture gallery depicted art, paintings and various exhibitions. PCI was found offering research articles, documentaries, Chinese and learning platform. CXU portrayed news with Chinese culture connotations. As a result of the versatility of web sources, most respondents’ views, in quantitative survey, changed significantly on account of their visit to the surveyed internet sources. Our findings agree with Isar and Triandafyllidou (2020), who maintained that societal harmony and civic engagement in cultural resources always promote national interests.


4 of the 6 surveyed websites were found dynamic and updated. CRI Urdu, YM, CXU, and PCI constantly updated their viewers and provided them with latest information. Along with the influence of websites, the medium of social networking is overpowering other media. China has attended to this also. Beijing has taken steps to exploit popular social media platforms, especially Facebook (Hartig 2019; Safdar 2021) and CXU is a vibrant instance in this respect, which is most updated. Moreover, according to Gui and Arif (2016) PCI was discovered to be filled with dynamism in producing Sino-Pakistan cultural communication. CRI Urdu and YM were found dynamic and the best means to Beijing’s efforts for its portrayal of soft cultural image in Pakistan.


The data suggest dormancy of at least 2 (CE and NS) of the 6 surveyed internet sources. Although Gui and Arif (2016), have commended the services of Chinese Embassy Islamabad in cultural depiction, this webpage attending Arts & Culture aspect has been dormant and was last updated in February 2016. The NS was last updated in 2017 with its gallery feature showing the latest pictures of a 2014 event. Its articles and news archive and interviews pages were last updated in mid-2017 implying its dormancy. On account of their dormancy, CE and NS have not been contributing much. They were rather found carrying a negative reference about the commitment of the concerned actors.

China’s cultural diplomacy in Pakistan has seen progress in the recent years and it moves in the right direction: it has managed to get an increasing number of local actors involved, it targets dynamic groups in the population, and it comprises acts of communication where meaning is co-created with the target audiences. By targeting niche cultural markets while placing great emphasis on people-to-people contacts, Beijing’s cultural diplomacy plays a crucial role in the Sino-Pakistan relationship.


Though the current work on Chinese cultural diplomacy is not a new phenomenon, as several researchers have already worked on it since decades (Ratliff 1969). In spite of that the current study is significant in its nature because it is one of the rare studies, which measured the role of selected internet sources in cultural diplomacy context highlighting the case of Pakistan. Similarly, the theoretical conceptualization of Hartig (2016), is employed in the context and methods, which will be a useful addition to the existing literature. In the domain of Sino-Pak soft diplomacy, we found non-existence of the studies, which streamlines the internet sources by adopting mix methods. It will be helpful for future researchers of the domain.

For practical implication, this study highlights that the CE and NS internet sources designed to depict Chinese culture and soft image of China should, in no case, be dormant and must stay regularly updated and improved. More efforts by China should be taken towards bringing enriched means and improved content on the internet sources to attract larger number of male audiences, younger population, ordinary citizens, and less educated. The web sources of YM, PCI, NS, and CE should also be offered in Urdu versions in order to magnetize larger population.

This study also discovered that in sharp contrast to China, other big powers, such as USA, UK, and Germany have established their cultural impression in Pakistan through Voice of America, BBC, and DW respectively both in English and Urdu. By using Urdu, these governments have succeeded in creating a firm foundation for deep bilateral connections and cultural linkages with the Pakistani public. Although China started making use of the local lingua franca late, its efforts are coming closer to other contenders gradually. CXU offered in Urdu is the best example which has attracted 1.3 million followers in just 2.5 years. This study was limited to the websites that portrayed Chinese cultural content. Further study and future investigation may include a number of other media variables, such as films and music to get a better understanding of this multidimensional and interactive character of Chinese cultural diplomacy. The constructs of image-building, epistemic communities and strategic narratives may also be added. Researchers can investigate the impact of cultural diplomacy by adopting comparative techniques or select a specific time period such as post-pandemic era.

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Fig. 1. Depiction of snowball sampling technique
Fig. 2. Ranking of participants’ experiences and attachment with Chinese websites
Fig. 3. Ranking of participants’ change in perceptions about China
Table. 1. Internet sources in Pakistan with Chinese culturally-oriented content
Table. 2. Respondents’ background (n=102)
Table. 3. EFA and descriptive statistics (n=102)
Table. 4. Pearson correlation and reliability (n=102)
Table. 5. Predictors of participants’ change in perceptions about China and Chinese culture
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