James Fallows on the “Chinese Dream”

James Fallows, longtime correspondent for The Atlantic, has released a preview of his forthcoming book China Airborne. While the book will document China’s rapidly developing aerospace industry, the adapted article compares the soft power reserves of the U.S. and China to probe at the “Chinese dream”. From the Atlantic:

Modern America’s power is often calculated in material terms, from the size and strength of its military to the scale of its corporate assets. But everything I have learned convinces me that these are finally reflections of the country’s success in attracting and enabling human talent. That success, in turn, has depended on the fortunate interaction of many different circumstances, rules, and decisions.

[...]In its pluses and its minuses, everything about this approach — the approach that has created the world’s reigning power of the moment — is fundamentally different from the principles behind the rise of the aspirant great power, China. America’s challenge is strangely conservative: Somehow it has to avoid destroying the cultural conditions that have been so important to its growth.
[...]From the Chinese government’s point of view, soft power has so far boiled down to using money to win other people’s goodwill or acquiescence. Chinese-built roads in Africa and Latin America; Chinese investment and interaction in Europe and the United States. The public-opinion elements of the soft-power campaign have often backfired, since they have been crudely propagandistic in the fashion of the government’s internal news management.

Even before the bad publicity China suffered with the jailing of Liu Xiaobo and the Jasmine crackdowns, a scholar from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Johan Lagerkvist, argued that China would likely lose more and more international support unless the government fundamentally reconceived its connections with the rest of the world. “China’s internal stability/security and survival of the Communist Party will always be more important to China’s leaders than the image it projects for outside consumption,” he contended. A choice between maintaining domestic order and pleasing outside critics was no choice at all. “Pouring money into Chinese equivalents to CNN and Al-Jazeera won’t help [without] reform initiatives,” he said.[...]

For more on China’s soft power, see recent CDT coverage of Joseph Nye Jr. on China’s soft power deficit.

May 9, 2012 6:06 PM
Posted By: