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China’s soft-power play: what will it take to get it just right?

31 0 61
16.01.2019

Judging by 2018, China’s goal of global influence and “winning hearts and minds” remains partially elusive. In the West, numerous events have negatively affected perceptions of China’s international role, from the arrest of a Chinese state-media reporter at a forum in Britain, to reports of Xinjiang’s detention camps for Muslim ethnic minorities, to the possibly retaliatory imprisonment of Canadians following the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer. China even had a diplomatic row with Sweden, of all places.

Yet, notwithstanding the debt issues in Sri Lanka, China remains something of an inspiration for developing countries, particularly those that stand to profit from the Belt and Road Initiative.

Thus, like the bears’ porridge in the children’s story Goldilocks, China’s soft-power efforts have proven either too hot or too cold for some, whereas for others it is “just right”. Finding that “Goldilocks zone” of a “just right” soft-power strategy in the West is arguably one of China’s greatest foreign policy challenges for 2019 and beyond.

The essence of soft power is that one state can get another state to do what it wants through co-option, not coercion. And this is perhaps where China’s soft-power efforts have come unstuck so far in the West: far from relying on persuasion, China’s soft-power strategies have arguably been adopted with something of a hard-power logic, a phenomenon which Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig have termed “sharp power”.

However, solely focusing on China’s missteps is problematic because soft power is a two-way street. A recent article by Minxin Pei argues that Western democracies should not overreact........

© South China Morning Post