A Review on “China’s Soft-Power Push: The Search for Respect” By David Shambaugh

August 12, 2015

This article from Foreign Affairs Volume 94 Number 4 is also an interesting one. It talks about how China is starting to work their image in world politics as its global power grows. China have an impressive economic power, but their image is not so good among the eyes of the world, especially eyeing their repressive political system, and mercantilist business practices.

For me, as an Indonesian who studied Political Science for years, it is true. When I heard the word China, the first thing that come in mind is of course, communism. The CCP (Chinese Commust Party) has been the main major ruling party in China. So what ? Well, the image of the communist haven’t really recovered fully after the Cold War. All of the propagandas happened back there are still occuring UNTIL NOW. At least in Indonesia. You can’t speak about PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/Indonesian Communist Party) lightly in a public place, at least some people will bats their eyes on you. Communism was so disregarded here, up until the point you cannot use Chinese characters (kanji) on any publication here in Indonesia in the time of Soeharto. And that are a few reason why China have to works their image, at least for us Indonesian.

According to the article, the Chinese government splash tons of money to rebuild their image among the countries that have diplomatic relations with them (it means the whole world except those who decided to have a diplomatic relations with Taiwan due to the One China Policy). The media blitz in the time of Hu Jintao, but getting stronger in Xi Jinping’s time. He even said that he is going to make China a socialist cultural superpower. Cultural superpower. Sounds like the US with their Hollywood and stuffs.

The article said that China starts their soft power usage by constructing an alternative development scheme for the new emerging powers.  Those are the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. And China is backing them up with loads of money. China use their money to make a good image of them as some kind of a Santa Claus. But always remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. But, this kind of soft-power usage is kinda “not touching” the grassroots. Maybe only those who cares about economy, international politics and development knows this kind of things.

To reach these grassroots level China uses their media to influence, to –again, provide an alternative aside the popular western media. China is penetrating their media trains through the CCTV (China Central Television) which now have a 24-hours English channel, and even broadcasted them in 6 different languages. This is one of the utilization of the soft power that can touch the grassroot level, because almost everyone (at least those who have TVs and Cables) can watch the CCTV among BBC (England), NHK (Japan), KBS (Korea), that (of course) providing anything good in accordance to each government’s interest. One of the thing that the article mention is: Propaganda is not a derogatory term in China.

On another front, another part of Chinese soft power is education. Nowadays, there are more people who studied Chinese. According to a survey conducted by the College of William and Mary, 40% of American researchers in International studies said that Chinese is the most valuable language to learn after English (this was on Charles King’s article in the same issue, talks about the decline of International Studies, you can see the review on my facebook page).  The Chinese government is happily spend their money for these people’s scholarship. Another thing is, they are opening the China’s Confucius Institutes that function the same as Goethe Institute for Germany, or British Council for the UK.

Another one, the most fun thing about soft power: promoting their cultural aspects. China might not have the NBA-class basketball team, or the BPL-class football league, but they are starting to be a fearsome opponent in the Olympic games. As an Indonesian, China is the strongest enemy you have to face in badminton. As a football fan, football clubs like Guangzhou Evergrande does ring a bell, because it was once managed by a world cup winning manager: Marcello Lippi. Aside of that, China’s 3000 years imperial story is a thing to be popularize. In Japan, there are many renditions of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms stories. The Last form of Chinese soft power that this article mention is the China’s host diplomacy, in which China is being a host of many international events such as the Beijing Olympic, the Boao Forum for Asia, the China Development Forum, the Beijing forum, etc.

The article said that in the end, after all those efforts, surveys are saying that the soft power bonanza haven’t really improve China’s image. Well, maybe it will take times. Even something as popular as Superman nowadays started in the 50s, right ? in the end, you cannot buy soft power, you to earn it. And it will comes when you let your best people allowed to reach other people in other country. Like… Ai Weiwei, perhaps ? (I know he’s critical to the government though).


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