China’s “soft power”?

New York Times today had a front page article entitled "Across Asia: Beijing's Star is in Ascendance" It certainly raised many important questions about China's increasing influence over the Asia-Pacific region.

The New York Times article also generated interesting online exchanges about China's "soft power" among some China observers. Daniel Lynch from the School of International Relations at University of Southern California made following points in the discussion:

"Genuine could withstand a serious and sustained economic downturn; people would still look to the putatively powerful country for guidance and leadership. Would this happen in China's case? I doubt it. Perhaps some day, but not now. The CCP's influence comes from the deal it proposes: respect and fawn on us and you can make some money. Otherwise, you're out in the cold. This is significantly closer to sheer extortion than to soft power.

Undoubtedly, people and groups in Chinese civil society *could* exert such positive influence were they not caged and hamstrung by the CCP system. They could unquestionably, for example, establish world-class universities; they already produce world-class films (though banned at home). The CCP actually *restricts* China from acquiring genuine soft power through its brutal and culture-warping policies. Will it ever stop?"

In response, another discussant pointed out that during the Asian financial crisis, China did provide significant leadership, by holding the Chinese currency stable rather than devaluing.

From New York Times article:

Not long ago Australia and China regarded each other with suspicion. But through newfound diplomatic finesse and the seemingly irresistible lure of its long economic expansion, Beijing has skillfully turned around relations with Australia, America's staunchest ally in the region.

The turnabout is just one sign of the broad new influence Beijing has accumulated across the Asian Pacific with American friends and foes alike. From the mines of Newman - an outpost of 3,000 in a corner of the outback - to theforests of Myanmar, the former Burma, China's rapid growth is sucking up resources and pulling the region's varied economies in its wake. The effect is unlike anything since the rise of Japanese economic power after World War II.

For now, China's presence mostly translates into money, and the doors it opens. But more and more, China is leveraging its economic clout to support its political preferences.

Beijing is pushing for regional political and economic groupings it can dominate, like a proposed East Asia Community that would cut out the United States and create a global bloc to rival the European Union. It is dispersing aid and, in ways not seen before, pressing countries to fall in line on its top foreign policy priority: its claim over Taiwan.

China's higher profile is all the more striking, analysts, executives and diplomats say, as Washington's preoccupation with Iraq and terrorism has left it seemingly disengaged from the region, which in turn has found the United States more off-putting and harder to penetrate after Sept. 11.

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