Soft Power? China Has Plenty

A Wise Gardener in AfricaChina has little attractive power, in the West. But not everyone is watching China through a Western eyes. China is a failure when it comes to soft power or so we’re told. Giant in hard-power leagues of money and military strength, China is often portrayed as a minnow swimming against the global tide of ideas and perceptions. Unloved and misunderstood, the country can only get things done through the use of carrots and sticks, not by capitalizing on the warm sentiments of others. The foreigners, in the end, pay heed to China only because have to, not because they want to. No-one has been more skeptical about Chinese soft power than Joseph Nye, man who first coined phrase 20 years ago. In particular, Nye has criticized Beijing’s efforts to acquire “soft power” through centralized schemes, like the spread of Confucius Institutes or establishment at end of last year of China Public Diplomacy Association. Despite “spending billions of dollars to increase its “soft power” … China has had a limited return on its investment,” he recently argued. This is because soft power mainly accrues when civil society actors, whom Chinese government tends to squash, make or do things with global appeal, according to Joseph Nye, not through top-down schemes which the foreigners are likely to interpret as propaganda. Nye rightly doubts whether all of China’s soft-power investments are paying off. However, we should not be too quick to write off China as an attractive force in the global affairs simply because Beijing has fired a few blanks. In fact, a Chinese soft power does exist. You just have to look for it in the right places (…..) Africa is not the only place from which China looks appealing. Its soft power also draws people in Latin America, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, where popular impression of China might contrast favorably with the general perception of the West, or where Beijing might be seen as a welcome partner in tough financial times, as a trusted long-time ally. Western commentators tend to overlook this, noticing only China’s lack of soft power in North America, Western Europe and those parts of Asia that fear or dislike China. In these places, bad news about China, everything from its smoggy air, to its venal politics, to its repression of dissidents, to its apparent strangeness, drowns out any soft-power messages that Beijing might be trying to send. But elsewhere the good news drowns out the bad. So Nye’s criticisms are half-right. In many states, China probably is wasting its time and resources when it tries to get people to watch CCTV, piles newsstands with English versions of the China Daily, or part-funds its Confucius Institutes. These initiatives are doomed to fail in certain contexts. But these same activities can work beautifully elsewhere. Even in the China-bashing West, China’s marketing messages are finding audience. U.S., for example, hosts more Confucius Institutes than any other country (70 at latest count). If they convince even a few Americans China is somehow likeable, respectable, trustworthy or admirable, then Beijing’s efforts won’t have gone entirely to waste.



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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