Belt, Road and Ball: Football as a Chinese Soft Power and Public Diplomacy Tool
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In October 2014, China issued the policy “Opinions for accelerating the development of the sports industry and promoting sports consumption”. Since then other public policy documents have been published to leverage the growth of the country’s sports industry by promoting the development of strategic sectors to meet a bold goal: by 2025 the sport industry generates $813 billion for the economy of the country. Two of these public policies are the “Medium and long-term football development plan (2016-2050)” and the “Action plan for the development of sports tourism ‘Belt and Road’ (2017-2020)”. These plans are also relevant for China’s diplomatic and trade relations. Both plans explicitly demonstrate their perception of sports as an instrument of public diplomacy and soft power. And this has already been seen in practice. For example, China Media Capital acquired a 13% stake of the City Football Group (CFG), owned by Abu Dhabi United Group, in 2015. CFG recently bought Chengdu’s Sichuan Jiuniu FC and just days before the acquisition Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways announced a new fleet of Boeing 787’s to service its routes into Chengdu. Another example is the football exhibitions tournaments held in China promoting integration among the countries in the BRI. This chapter, based on the literature review and the analysis of these public policy documents, seeks to identify how they contribute to the development of the Chinese sports industry, while serving as a public diplomacy and soft power tool and to what extent they are connected to the BRI.
KeywordsChina Soft power Public diplomacy Football Belt and Road Initiative
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