Econ­omy

Chi­nese soft power

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Soft power, a term coined 20 years ago by an Amer­i­can, Joseph Nye of Har­vard Univer­sity, who was also chair­man of the US Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Coun­cil and a se­nior of­fi­cial at the Pen­tagon, He de­scribe it as the “the abil­ity to get what you want through at­trac­tion rather than co­er­cion or pay­ments”.

In 2003, China adopted the mes­sage of ‘peace­ful de­vel­op­ment’ to be­come an ex­cep­tion to the pat­tern of his­tory whereby ris­ing big pow­ers con­flict with es­tab­lished ones. Since then, there has been a sprin­kling of speeches and eco­nomic cam­paigns with ref­er­ence to China’s pur­suit of a ‘har­mo­nious world’ and a ‘har­mo­nious so­ci­ety’.

The re­sults have been mixed. With rich coun­tries on the skids, China’s eco­nomic model is look­ing good. De­vel­op­ment driven by the state as well as the mar­ket seems to be de­liv­er­ing div­i­dends, and China’s suc­cess has helped pop­u­lar­ize the idea that state-owned com­pa­nies should have a larger role in their na­tional economies. Busi­ness peo­ple around the world ad­mire the ef­fi­ciency of both the public and pri­vate sec­tor in China. In­ter­est­ingly, Chi­nese in­vest­ment in African coun­tries and Latin Amer­ica is giv­ing those places a wel­come boost.

China has ac­tively pur­sued a de­vel­op­ment agenda in or Tai­wan. The size­able num­ber of over hun­dred thou­sand of over­seas stu­dents study­ing in China es­tab­lishes a be­lief about China to get ahead, in the same way that a decade ago peo­ple be­lieved about the United States.

But ex­perts doubt that this turn to­wards China might more be due to fear than de­sire. “Po­lit­i­cally in South­east Asia, it’s very hard to dis­tin­guish be­tween an Eu-style re­sponse to China (choos­ing freely to ex­pand trade ties) and the po­ten­tial se­cu­rity threat. They’re think­ing, ‘This is the big elephant in the neigh­bor­hood and we don’t want to be on its bad side.’”

Due to the preva­lence of a level of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in China, there is a con­tin­u­ous con­flict of ap­peal with rest of the world, par­tic­u­larly the West. The eco­nomic model is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the po­lit­i­cal model and, as the Arab Spring has shown, au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism has lit­tle ap­peal in the West or any­where else.

The Fi­nan­cial Times’ es­say by David Pilling presents the same ar­gu­ment by say­ing that the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s sup­pres­sion of dis­sent im­poses lim­its on Bei­jing’s pro­mo­tion of its brand of soft power. Ul­ti­mately, the in­creas­ingly rapid man­ner in which ideas can now be dif­fused across the globe sends con­cerns that a cen­tral­ized state-based ap­proach to gov­er­nance may be un­ten­able. Africa, cou­pled with lock­ing in agree­ments on en­ergy and com­modi­ties. China’s soft-power en­gage­ment in Africa in­cludes: • Pro­fess­ing sol­i­dar­ity with Africa in in­ter­na­tional fo­rums on trade and hu­man rights is­sues; For­giv­ing more than $1 bil­lion in debt from African coun­tries; Train­ing more than 100,000 Africans in Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties and mil­i­tary in­sti­tutes; Send­ing more than 900 doc­tors to work across Africa; and Mak­ing ma­jor in­vest­ments in in­fra­struc­ture, agri­cul­ture, and en­ergy. China is steadily in­creas­ing its sup­port for cul­tural ex­changes, send­ing doc­tors and teach­ers to work abroad, wel­com­ing stu­dents from other na­tions to study in China, and pay­ing for Chi­ne­se­lan­guage pro­grams abroad. In 2005, China’s ed­u­ca­tion min­istry an­nounced a new ini­tia­tive to boost Chi­nese-lan­guage teach­ing

• in Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties and lan­guage in­sti­tutes around the world. Bei­jing Univer­sity an­nounced a vis­it­ing-schol­ars fund to en­cour­age for­eign Phds to study in China; such an en­deavor was not sup­ported by any univer­sity a decade ear­lier.

Thechi­nese cul­tural in­flu­ence started spread­ing as al­ready ev­i­dent in many parts of the world. “Right now, your kids wear Chi­nese clothes and play with Chi­nese toys. It is not at all in­con­ceiv­able that their kids will lis­ten to Chi­nese pop and pre­fer Chi­nese movies,” as put by John Der­byshire in the Na­tional Re­view On­line.

In South­east Asia, Chi­nese cul­ture, cui­sine, cal­lig­ra­phy, cinema, cu­rios, art, acupunc­ture, herbal medicine, and fash­ion fads have all emerged in re­gional cul­ture. Young peo­ple in the re­gion are fas­ci­nated by Chi­nese cul­ture, as seen in films, pop mu­sic, and tele­vi­sion, even though those trends may have orig­i­nated in Hong Kong

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