Growing soft power more than just appeal to Western interest

By Liu Aming Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-13 20:33:01

Although US political scientist Joseph Nye, who recently slammed China and Russia for their soft power failings, developed the concept of soft power, he was not the first to realize the existence of such power.

Many international political theoreticians, including Hans J. Morgenthau, have pointed out over half a century ago that besides the measurable powers such as military and economic strength that play a part on the international political stage, there is non-measurable power that comes from respect, admiration and charisma.

As a big country with 5,000 years' civilization and culture, China boosts rich soft power resources thanks to its successful development.

China's cultural ideals, such as pursuing peace and harmony and stressing tolerance and unity, have been recognized by the world. Aspects of its culture such as martial arts, calligraphy and medicine have been appreciated by people from across the globe.

Meanwhile, systematic renovation can put a country in a position of international leadership, and make it followed by other countries.

In recent years, China's development experience and its vigorous political system have attracted research from many countries, and this has become an importance resource of China's influence.

Proper and successful diplomacy can also promote a country's international status and its soft power.

China has unswervingly followed an independent foreign policy accepted by most countries. It acts unlike the US which imposes its own ideologies on others and resorts to the military to solve disputes. Nye has to admit that this has earned China favor in the developing world, such as in Africa.

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean China can turn these resources into persuasive and attractive power. The development of soft power is an accumulating process that is difficult to quantify and track, and is very slow.

In some countries and regions which are deeply influenced by Western cultures, political systems and values, China is obviously a latecomer or even considered as a "dissident force." Under such circumstances, it is rather difficult for China to attract Western countries with its own political and cultural charisma, let alone to replace their positions.

However, reality provides China with "late-developer" advantages, which can mainly be drawn from the lesson of the US' soft power decline.

China has been trying to integrate with the world through a modest and self-disciplining approach rather than be disregardful and aggressive. Concepts such as equal communication and putting aside minor differences so as to seek common ground, which are lacking in US soft power theories, are exactly the allure of China's soft power.

The development of China's power is a sustainable process. Currently, in order to let the world know more about China and eliminate the concerns about the growth of China's hard power, the Chinese government's investment in the country's soft power is vital.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games showed China's kindness to the world, and reflected China's humane spirit. China's assistance to some underdeveloped African countries adds positive feedback about China's soft power. And this then turns into a favorable international reputation.

Although China's soft power has been growing, there's still a long way to go for it to catch up with that of the US. In the foreseeable future, China has neither the capability to challenge the US nor the intention of doing so.

But soft power, after all, is a kind of power which can also make enemies.

The preference for "binary opposition" theory by some Western scholars and their potential awareness of competition and crisis when facing China's rise make them believe that China's soft power is either not attractive or that it is aiming to compete with the US for leading status.

Although Nye admits soft power can reach a win-win situation, he obviously is not willing to admit or hasn't realized that some attractive power does exist in the world that's unknown to Americans or Westerners.

The author is a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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