China: Strategic Softening?

17 Feb

A clear sight over the past two decades has been Chinese economic growth and the threat it poses to existing world order, especially US global dominance. However, what we see emerging is China taking on new approaches to increase its global presence; in the form of soft power. ‘Though debates mainly revolve around economic and military aspects of China’s increasing power, its soft power components are considered to be an integral part of its influence.’ (RT, 04/02/14)

On January 1st 2014, ‘President Xi Jinping vowed to promote China’s cultural soft power by disseminating modern Chinese values and showing the charm of Chinese culture to world.’ (China Daily) However, we see this promotion of the Chinese brand even prior to Xi’s quest which begun earlier this year. The Beijing Olympic Games were ‘considered to be very important in the sense of public diplomacy, with the intention of creating the image of a “nice country”.’ (RT, 04/02/14) The government spent 42 million on the games more than London and almost double that of Athens, showing despite wishing to promote peaceful global relations and harmonious Chinese values there seems to be a sense of strategy behind these soft power moves. What a development in soft power enables is a new frontier of competition with the United States and the hold it is has throughout the world, despite its declining economic position, due to its cultural hegemony.

Just a couple of days ago a Chinese film won the best picture award at the Berlin film festival, cinema a traditionally US and European stronghold, now an avenue China wishes to use to develop a cultural presence throughout the world. This aim was also reflected in Xi’s earlier speech in which he ‘called for efforts to promote advanced socialist culture, deepen reform in the cultural system, and enhance peoples cultural creativity.’ (China Daily, 01/01/14) We see further challenge to US worldwide cultural dominance through the reforms the Chinese government has taken with education, and the their expansion worldwide, particularly with the promotion of foreign students studying in China. In 1992 China had only 13,000 foreign students in its universities, as of 2006 it had 162,700, although still far off the United States large amount of foreign intake it displays a determination to bring in individuals and display the Chinese character, as well as expanding Chinese beliefs and values beyond their own borders. The influx has mainly come from surrounding countries and ‘what is important (to take on) is the fact that previously the US was the most favourite direction for southeastern Asian youth, but now there is a remarkable shift towards Chinese education.’ (RT, 04/02/14) Much like most areas of Chinese development and challenge, the US still pulls rank. However the fast paced nature of growth China has taken makes us pose the question, ‘for how much longer?’

The expansion of Chinese soft power lies right on our doorsteps as well, the Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar square are some of the biggest in Europe, attracting almost half a million international visitors. This endorsement of a holiday whose principles vary so much from our own western values and the magnitude the festival has taken outside of China ‘are a reminder of how growing popularity and expanding international recognition of Chinese culture and traditions demonstrate the progress of China’s soft power.’ (RT,04/02/14)

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