China-Qatar Relations: Media, Culture, Education, and People

Undeniably, the use of soft power has become an important element of China's contemporary foreign strategy, and has been embraced in its foreign policy over the last two decades. In this case, although China becomes increasingly optimistic concerning its future growth, there is growing discomfort in some parts of the world regarding the implications of the nation's rise. Moreover, many doubt whether a growing China can become a responsible and peaceful world power. China realises the importance of cultural, educational and media resources to offer reassurance and engage in relationships with the outside world in order to avoid opposition to its ascendance. Although many have outlined China's expanding use of soft-power in some parts of the world, its pivot in the Gulf has not received wide coverage. In reality, China has used soft-power resources to strengthen its foothold in the region; this is demonstrated well in the case of Qatar. Educational partnership is perhaps the most apparent element of China's soft-power initiative in the world, including Qatar. As Rasmus Bertelsen argues, educational institutions have become important soft-power sources, as they function as bridges between individuals, financial resources, interest, and information on their society of origin and their host society. In acknowledgement of this, China has exerted various efforts to bolster its educational soft-power in Qatar by tethering its aspirations of exercising soft-power to the global popularity of its language and culture. The Translation and Interpreting Studies (TII) of Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) signed a MoU with Chinese Embassy in Qatar to collaborate in the areas of language teaching and cultural activities. Today, Chinese courses are offered at the institution. During a visit to China last year, the Qatari government conveyed its decision, and reportedly offered a grant of $10mn, to establish a Middle East research programme; namely, the Qatar Middle East Studies Project, the aim of which is to advance Peking University's ongoing research in the Middle East and Gulf region. Furthermore, the two universities planned to expand their areas of partnership, including in the subject of engineering. Other efforts have manifested in the form of media partnership. In recent years, media strategy has become an important part of Beijing's soft-power endeavours. From the mid-1990s, China has stepped up its external propaganda and surged its investments to internalise its media. As David Shambaugh writes, China's post-Mao international publicity is oriented towards several objectives; for example, to tell China's story to international audiences, and to pawn what is perceived widely as adverse foreign propaganda, such as the professed China threat theory. In light of the above, it is already apparent that through carrying out image management through Beijing-produced media, China has been implementing a 'systemic' effort to establishing regular channels of global communications. Among these efforts is establishing a partnership with the world's major media channels. With Al Jazeera, which has become one of the world's largest and most influential television channels, Qatar is the main target of Beijing's media soft-power strategy. In fact, China's Central Television (CCTV) signed a partnership agreement with Al Jazeera in 2013; under which, Al Jazeera was granted permission to open a representative office in Beijing. Although there was a controversy a few years ago that led to its closure, the office re-opened in 2014. Another tool adopted by China to augment its soft power is cultural exchanges. Its rich, varied, and ancient cultural heritage has emerged as a crucial instrument of the country's soft-power. As China's Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng once declared, culture recently has become the third pillar of China's diplomacy. Therefore, Beijing has been exporting various elements of its culture through an elaborate network of cultural enterprises, interactions and exchanges. Through them, China hopes to assure the world that it is a civilized and peaceful nation. The most important cultural initiative by China has taken place in Qatar, where the Qatar China 2016 Year of Culture is held under the patronage of Qatar Museums' (QM) Chairperson, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in partnership with Qatar's Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Qatar. The intention of this initiative is to connect the people of Qatar and China through exploring the contemporary and traditional cultures of both countries, through innovative cultural exchange activities, exhibitions, festivals and educational programmes.

The idea of the tie-up was discussed during the Emir's visit to China last November. Subsequently, it was made official in April by Qatar's Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, when he met with the Asian country's Cultural Minister Luo Shugang in Beijing. One important highlight of the event is the exhibition What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China, which includes works by 15 contemporary Chinese artists and is curated by the famous Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Following his solo exhibition - "Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab" -- the word for "mirage" - at Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in 2011, Cai returns to Qatar to curate an exhibition n featuring the artists and collectives working in a variety of media.

However, Chinese culture is no stranger to Qatar. In previous years, for instance, "Joy Spring Festival" has been celebrated annually in Qatar. Not only that, dancers from Ningxia also came to Doha in 2010 to stage their performance as part of the Arab culture capital celebrations. This was followed two years later by Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming, who opened an exhibition of his paintings, which includes portraits of famous individuals in the Arab world. More recently, in early 2015, a Chinese Kung Fu show was held at Qatar's Dragon Mart. Of equal interest is the increasing popularity of traditional Chinese medicine and the prevalence of Chinese medicine clinics. One reason for its growing popularity, as Qatar University professor Dr. Jacqueline Armijo argues, is that some traditional Chinese medical treatments are perceived as Sunnah (Prophetic teaching); in particular, cupping or moxibustion (in Arabic al-hijama, or kasat hawa in the traditional Gulf dialect). Even though all these export channels have contributed successfully to China's solid footprint in Qatar, its influence has been fortified via the presence of Chinese diaspora. For China, as Shaun Breslin contends, with the numbers of Chinese workers, tourists, students, and businessmen overseas increasing, interaction with local populations plays a considerable role in shaping China's image to the outside world and promoting understanding to its partners. Currently, there are approximately 6000 Chinese living in Qatar, and it is reported that by far the largest group of Chinese diaspora in the country comprises construction workers. As Chinese enterprises have been conferred for some development projects in Qatar, there is an increasing back-and-forth of Chinese workers, both professionals and non-professionals. With China's growing immersion in various fields in Qatar, there has also been an influx of Chinese tourists, students and businessmen. Acknowledging the importance of people-to-people interactions in strengthening its soft-power foothold, China and Qatar have introduced pertinent initiatives. Both countries' air carriers have increased the number of flights from and to China. The two countries have also signed an agreement regulating the employment of Chinese workers in Qatar. This is unsurprising, not only due to the growing presence of workers from China, but also in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in 2022; especially as Doha plans extensive infrastructure constructions. China is expected to garner this opportunity by relocating companies and workers to Qatar.

As China aims to strengthen its partnership with the Gulf country, undoubtedly the use of soft-power will continue to be China's fundamental tool in complementing its growing political and economics linkages. China realises that even though stimulating cooperation is not a simple process, the use of soft-power could contribute to deeper political and economic links.