Why China Is Weak on Soft Power

In the New York Times, Joseph S. Nye Jr., who coined the term “,” writes about why China’s efforts in that arena are not always effective:

Already in 2007, Hu told the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that China needed to invest more in its soft power resources. Accordingly, China is spending billions of dollars on a charm offensive.

The Chinese style emphasizes high-profile gestures, such as rebuilding the Cambodian Parliament or Mozambique’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. The elaborately staged 2008 Beijing Olympics enhanced China’s reputation, and the 2010 Shanghai Expo attracted more than 70 million visitors. The Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island attracts nearly 2,000 Asian politicians and business leaders to what is billed as an “Asian Davos.” And Chinese aid programs to Africa and Latin America are not limited by the institutional or human rights concerns that constrain Western aid.

[…] What China seems not to appreciate is that using culture and narrative to create soft power is not easy when they are inconsistent with domestic realities.

The 2008 Olympics were a success, but shortly afterwards, China’s domestic crackdown in Tibet and Xianjiang, and on human rights activists, undercut its soft power gains. The Shanghai Expo was also a great success, but was followed by the jailing of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and the artist Ai Weiwei. And for all the efforts to turn Xinhua and China Central Television into competitors for CNN and the BBC, there is little international audience for brittle propaganda.

Read more about soft power in China via CDT.

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