China extends its soft power
Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times about the contrast between China’s expanding efforts to sell its culture in its near abroad with the ratcheting down of U.S. public diplomacy: In pagoda-style buildings donated by the Chinese government to the university here, Long Seaxiong, 19, stays up nights to master the intricacies of Mandarin. ...
Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times about the contrast between China's expanding efforts to sell its culture in its near abroad with the ratcheting down of U.S. public diplomacy:
Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times about the contrast between China’s expanding efforts to sell its culture in its near abroad with the ratcheting down of U.S. public diplomacy:
In pagoda-style buildings donated by the Chinese government to the university here, Long Seaxiong, 19, stays up nights to master the intricacies of Mandarin. The sacrifice is worth it, he says, and the choice of studying Chinese was an easy one over perfecting his faltering English. China, not America, is the future, he insists, speaking for many of his generation in Asia. “For a few years ahead, it will still be the United States as No. 1, but soon it will be China,” Mr. Long, the son of a Thai businessman, confidently predicted as he showed off the stone, tiles and willow trees imported from China to decorate the courtyard at the Sirindhorn Chinese Language and Culture Center, which opened a year ago. The center is part of China’s expanding presence across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where Beijing is making a big push to market itself and its language, similar to the way the United States promoted its culture and values during the cold war. It is not a hard sell, particularly to young Asians eager to cement cultural bonds as China deepens its economic and political interests in the region. Put off from visiting the United States by the difficulty of gaining visas after 9/11, more and more Southeast Asians are traveling to China as students and tourists. Likewise, Chinese tourists, less fearful than Americans of the threat of being targets of terrorism, are becoming the dominant tourist group in the region, outnumbering Americans in places like Thailand and fast catching up to the ubiquitous Japanese. As the new Chinese tourists from the rapidly expanding middle class travel, they carry with them an image of a vastly different and more inviting China than even just a few years ago, richer, more confident and more influential. “Among some countries, China fever seems to be replacing China fear,” said Wang Gungwu, the director of the East Asian Institute at National University in Singapore. Over all, China’s stepped up endeavors in cultural suasion remain modest compared with those of the United States, and American popular culture, from Hollywood movies to MTV, is still vastly more exportable and accessible, all agree. The United States also holds the balance of raw military power in the region. But the trend is clear, educators and diplomats here say: the Americans are losing influence. As China ramps up its cultural and language presence, Washington is ratcheting down, ceding territory that was virtually all its own when China was trapped in its hard Communist shell. “The Chinese are actively expanding their public diplomacy while we are cutting back or just holding our own,” said Paul Blackburn, a former public affairs officer of the United States Information Service who served at four American embassies in Asia in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Read the whole thing — Perlez backs up her assertion. Does any of this matter? This depends whether you think that soft power actually matters. I think soft power doesn’t exist without hard power, so really Chinese soft power matters only as it represents a manifestation of China’s hard power.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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