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This video was brought to you by Brilliant. China-US competition is a constant source of discussion these days. But a dimension of
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the debate that's often neglected is the soft power of both countries. People do regularly talk about who would win if China-US competition escalated into conflict, or whether China's military could soon rival America's. This is what's known as hard power. But a country's international standing isn't just about hard power, it's also about culture and values, which shape a country's perception in the international community, something which is known as soft power. So in this video, we're going to explain soft power, look at how China wants to compete with the US here, and why their efforts have been mostly unsuccessful thus far.
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Let's start by explaining what soft power is and why it's important. Soft power is a term that was first coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye and refers to a nation's ability to influence another party's behavior and decisions to act in its interest without coercion or aggression. Now we can see soft power manifested in a country's cultural exports, things like brands and celebrities, as well as literature and art, which propagate a country's values. And America is the archetypal example of a country with soft power. American brands like Starbucks and McDonald's are established across the globe.
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And American cultural exports like Hollywood films are often world renowned. Now, these things combined perpetuate American ambition and values, giving America a certain cultural heft and influence. This is clearly distinct from hard power, which refers to more concrete ways of enforcing power through things like military and economic strength. But it is strength nonetheless. Frustrated by America's hegemony here, China has spent the past decade trying to increase their soft power standing too.
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So in 2010, Chinese officials under leader Hu Jintao identified a soft power push as a priority in its 12th five-year plan, in an attempt to soften its image as a rising threat to global stability. Now, the 2008 Beijing Olympics marks China's arrival on the international stage, and preceded an increase in soft power products which have continued under President Xi. 1 obvious soft power effort is the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. This is essentially a series of infrastructure projects with the intent of connecting Eurasia and Africa, inspired by China's so-called Silk Road. But these projects go way further than just economic investment.
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They aim to broadcast China's image as a generous creditor, seeking interconnectedness with the world, as well as increasing its presence and influence in other countries. As such, the BRI aims to garner positive press for China by tagging its name to projects which are, in theory, meant to increase the host country's prosperity. China has also tried to increase its soft power by establishing Confucius Institutes in schools and universities all over the world. Now, Confucius institutes are learning centres which promote Chinese culture and language, and facilitate cultural exchange with other countries. So have these efforts worked?
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Well, not really. Despite its efforts, China has been largely unsuccessful in increasing its global popularity, particularly in the West. According to Pew Research polling, of the 17 advanced economies they surveyed, a majority had unfavorable views of China in May 2022, particularly in neighboring countries like Japan and Australia. In fact, international perceptions of China have actually steeply declined in the past few years. So why is this?
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Well, it's largely because China's diplomatic efforts have been overshadowed by international crises, namely the human rights issues flagged in Xinjiang, the handling of Hong Kong protests, the escalation over Taiwan, and China's behaviour during COVID. When it comes to the issue of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China made great efforts to dispel criticism on the matter, but their denials have fallen flat abroad. Meanwhile, the CCP's crackdown in Hong Kong shocked the international community, and its newfound bellicosity over Taiwan isn't exactly helping either. As US-China tensions over the island escalate, the CCP has ratcheted up the rhetoric more than many people might have expected. In fact, More generally, China's rhetoric has been pretty aggressive in its territorial disputes, whether that's in the South China Sea or the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.
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Ultimately, this seems to be a continuation of the Wolf Warrior diplomacy, which has characterized much of China's assertive diplomacy under Xi Jinping's leadership, and that really took off during the pandemic, when Chinese diplomats spent a lot of time on Twitter furiously defending China's controversial lockdowns and resisting the lab leak theory. You get the idea then. China's soft power efforts have been overshadowed by international crises. However, even China's soft power projects have had their fair share of controversies. The BRI for example has largely failed to win international brownie points, with some even accusing it of debt-trap diplomacy and economic neo-colonialism.
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Similarly, Confucius Institutes have been accused of spreading CCP-sponsored propaganda, with many countries threatening to close them or retract their funding. Now, that's not to say that China's soft power efforts have been entirely unsuccessful. Broadly speaking, countries in the developing world do have better attitudes towards China, especially in Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Nonetheless, things haven't quite gone to plan, especially in the West, and China's soft power efforts are yet to bear any real fruit. The question is, does any of this really matter anyway?
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Does soft power really matter? Some people aren't convinced that soft power matters as much as it once did, especially in this new era of military violence where hard power is ultimately what counts. Skeptics also point out that America's soft power didn't stop it from becoming less popular under President Trump. While international opinions of America have recovered somewhat under Biden, although they're still below where they were under Obama, they essentially collapsed under Trump. Even America's NATO allies generally had an unfavorable perception of Trump's America.
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Nonetheless the fact that despite its various foreign policy blunders and dysfunctional politics, America is still winning the PR war against China, does at least suggest that China needs to invest more in its soft power if it wants to seriously challenge America. That's because as much as hard power might be making a comeback, Soft power is what mitigates against the nasty effects of hard power. And if American perception abroad continues to decline, this could give China a chance to topple America's soft power hegemony. Regardless of what happens though, it's interesting that even as people ostensibly into politics, the TLDR team spends more and more time analysing data and economic information as it becomes more and more critical to our lives. And as a bunch of people who are ordinarily more focused on words than numbers, we've really benefited from the courses on brilliant.org in order to keep ourselves sharp.
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