July 17, 2008

China's Soft Power

Billboard promotes the Rolling Stones, 'A Bigger Bang' concert in Shanghai.

As is frequently the case, discussions on China’s growth and influence are mostly limited to concerns about military matters. This other side of China’s growth, known as soft power or “Charm Offensive” relates to their rapidly expanding economy and cunning investment strategies. Indeed, over the past two decades China has been totally transformed, having undergone the most comprehensive national metamorphosis in modern history. Mostly impoverished in 1976 after Mao’s reign, it has emerged into one of the worlds most dynamic economies.

Trying to get a grip on how powerful China is — especially when the nebulous, unquantifiable concept of 'soft power' is brought into the discussion — is quite difficult writes Malcolm Cooke.

"Is it replacing Japan as the economic centre of Asia? Probably not, in my view. Will it soon challenge the US for global supremacy? Certainly not, in my view.

However, one of the less standard measures I am using to move my own mental abacus around is how many firms and media outlets are relocating their regional headquarters to China. The
Sydney Morning Herald has shifted its Asia economics correspondent to Beijing, and last week I met the executive vice president, Asia Pacific of one of the world’s largest public relations firms, who is now based in Beijing. I see Motorola now has its North Asia headquarters in Beijing while Alcatel Lucent has consolidated its Asia Pacific headquarters in Shanghai (sorry Singapore).

At the moment, the numbers of such headquarters seem to be quite low, and some think Singapore and Hong Kong are not at risk yet of losing their hub status in the region. As always, within China, there is quite a bit of competition between Shanghai, Beijing and even Guangzhou to capture these headquarters, each offering a range of sweeteners, from tax holidays to assistance with foreign exchange transactions.

How many top 500 non-Chinese companies, especially those in services, shift their regional headquarters to China may be a good measure of China’s growing economic importance globally and regionally. Whether Shanghai or Beijing snare more will also be a good measure of where the economic muscle is in China itself."

(Via The Interpreter)

Writing for Real Clear Politics, former NYT columnist Richard Halloran quoted Chinese scholar, Joshua Kurlantzick: "China may want to shift influence away from the United States to create its own sphere of influence, a kind of Chinese Monroe Doctrine for Southeast Asia [where] countries would subordinate their interests to China's”.

As one who remains passionate about the prolongation of U.S. global hegemony I feel compelled to point out; the rise of China’s soft power is an issue that needs addressing – a recent BBC poll of 22 nations found that some 50 percent saw Beijing’s as a positive influence compared to 38 percent for the U.S. While military might remains serious America, more than any other nation ought to recognize that in this global information age, soft power sources as political maneuverings, cultures and diplomacy constitute the making of a powerful nation in as much as military might.

One would think that it should not be difficult for Washington to reinforce and sell the still dominant “Washington Consensus”, a phrase seen as being synonymous with neoliberalism and globalization over the “Beijing Consensus” which essentially means authoritarian governance coupled with market economy - what Nicholas Kristof has aptly referred to as “Market Leninism”, a fusion of liberalizing economics and repressive politics.

Contrary to some reports, China’s soft power must take huge strides to match it with the U.S. nonetheless; it is not too early to ignore this “nebulous” aspect of China’s emergence, as Fareed Zakaria wrote in 2007, “Two thousand eight is the year of China. It should also be the year we craft a serious long-term China policy” …

See also, The Rise of a Fierce Yet Fragile Superpower

9 comments:

WomanHonorThyself said...

more than any other nation ought to recognize that in this global information age, soft power sources as political maneuverings, cultures and diplomacy constitute the making of a powerful nation in as much as military might.
...Great observations Otto..but the Olympics trump all!..where is our perception?..great work.:)

Incognito said...

In spite of outward appearances, not enough people realize how dangerous China is (along with Russia). Especially with so many people hoping that China supercedes the US as the world superpower.

MK said...

"China’s soft power must take huge strides to match it with the U.S."

Well, throw in a bit of indifference, apathy and ignorance in the form of that BBC poll and i don't think those strides will have to be that huge.

As it is our governments are not really interested in what we think, imagine how concerned they are with a long-term China policy when the people are happy to remain ignorant.

Z said...

I agree with MK....Zakaria's statement got me thinking....how do we 'craft a serious long-term China policy...'? Not knowing what they might do on any given day; who they might liase with, how powerful they can get, etc., etc., seems to me like all we can do now is REact, sadly...
I just did a blog piece on the pollution in China, by the way, and can't figure out how ANY company would want to move their offices there compared to Sinapore, for example! I will say that ONE 'serious long-term China policy' might be forcing them to carry their weight re; pollution, seeing that scientists reckon 15% of OUR pollution is caused by them!?

David Schantz said...

I hope whoever it is that writes that long-term China policy spends some time studying Sun Tzu's "The Art Of War". I know it's an old book but it is my understanding that it is one that Chineese policy makers use/follow to this day.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

EDGE said...

Just looked at the bottom of my mouse..."Made in China."

(sigh)

Americaneocon said...

China will have tremendous regional influence, and at some point will be more important than Japan as the regional economic superpower (especially when Beijing overtakes Japan in high value-added manufaturing, i.e., aircraft, autos, etc.). But that's a ways away. I don't really ever think China will surpass the U.S. in soft cultural power, not as long as the U.S. dominates global entertainment...

Jungle Mom said...

China is also making a lot of investments in south America, certainly in Venezuela. And Russia. Chavez just gave Russia the right to build military installations in Venezuela. Does anyone remember history? Is anyone even watching all this????

Layla said...

Hi my friend Otto! Sorry it took me a bit to get over here, but I did not forget you.

Truly this is a magnificent essay. China is a menace in so many ways and with globalization trumping so much of how world business is handled now we must beware.

For too long China has been under estimated. I would not write China off yet - she could be trouble.

Also, off topic sort of, but I will not be watching the summer olympics in China - we call ourselves a nation that cares about human rights and we support such a sham as this? I cannot and I hope you all will join the boycott of the summer olympics.

Glad you are still able to blog with your busy schedule Otto. You truly make such wonderful contributions.

~Layla