Planting the seeds for soft-power?

14 Mar

China is often regarded as a failure when it comes to soft power, at least when it is seen through western eyes. Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power”, see’s China’s efforts as centralised top down schemes, such as the wide spread diffusion of Confucius Institutes across the world which is interpreted by some as propaganda (Moss, 2013). China has spent billions of dollars on developing soft power yet it has only seen a limited return (Moss, 2013).

Soft power is the result of being liked, trusted and respected and is more “in the mind” than hard power which consists of tangible strategic assets like warships (Moss, 2013, Toh, 2013). Soft power is important to China because it can be used to advance the state’s interests in ways which are often difficult to force. In this sense it is likely that China wishes to be treated with greater respect on the international stage, not least because of its tremendous growth and its past achievements (Toh, 2013). Improving the image of China will have boosting effects ranging from increased commercial opportunities to a greater sense of national pride in its citizens.

However, China has not been totally unsuccessful and it is important not to forget that not everyone is watching China through Western eyes. In western settings Chinese efforts to develop soft power are often greeted with suspicion, perhaps sometimes unfairly. In other regions like Africa it is a different story entirely. China is the most influential world power in Africa and extends its soft power though cooperative developments (Moss, 2013). Western observers have been quick to interpret this as a cynical land-grab however (Toh, 2013). China also invests heavily in education and cultural dissemination through the use of Confucius institutes, which have received a much better reception than in the West.

There is debate however about how much soft power china actually develops out of its commercial activities in Africa because its companies in Africa do not possess soft-power in their businesses or in their brands (Toh, 2013). Another reason is that Chinese product quality in Africa is low and this is perceived by Africans. Soft Power associated with branded products is an area where China lags behind the rest of the developed world like the USA and UK (Moss, 2013). Things are improving though as Chinese multinationals start to make waves in the developed world, such as Huawei in the UK. It seems then that China is taking significant steps to increase it influence on the rest of the world. In Africa and the developing world prospects for substantial and rewarding soft power look most promising, however in these areas there is still much work to do.


Moss, T. 2013 –

Toh, H. S. 2013 –


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