Does China’s Soft Power have Good Kung Fu?

Sunday, September 18, 2011 5:45
Posted in category The Big Picture, Uncategorized
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Without a doubt, China’s economic power has become a tool to be leveraged globally. There is hardly a country that is not talking about China as a “partner”, that it can provide a much needed economic lifeline, or that when Beijing needs a resource, it will be happy to build a few roads, schools, and hospitals along the road to the extraction site.

It is a condition that one would think would have naturally come along with what is now being called “soft power”, but over the last few months as I have traveled across Asia and in the US, I was beginning to see that if China had any “soft power” it was quickly being lost on everyone.

In Singapore and HK, no one as talking about the fact that it was China’s spend that was keeping their economies largely afloat, it was about how the “mainlanders” were ruining property markets for locals and acting high and mighty about their wealth. In the US it was a bit different, but really much the same, as there was a general belief (and fear) that a China rising was a bad thing for the US.

And with headlines like China Ties Aiding Europe to Its Own Trade Goals, it is hard not see that China has a problem:

Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday offered to help Europe. But, in an unprecedented move for China, he linked the offer to a potentially onerous demand: that Europe renounce its main legal defense against low-priced Chinese exports.

Mr. Wen urged the European Union to classify China as a “market economy” instead of a “nonmarket economy.”

Not that China shouldn’t ask for this, but to hold it over the head of European representatives is perhaps a bit much in that it is asking to much, and comes off as a ransom to those who are losing jobs, businesses, homes.

For me, what I have found most interesting throughout the last 12 months is the simple fact that this should be the time that China is enjoying the fruits of its labor more than at any other time. It’s economy has lifted 400m out of poverty, it is the leading country in many areas of investment, and it has come a long way from playing ping pong and sending pandas around the world.

Yet, if you were to look at announcements like Jet Li’s recent announcement that he was Ashamed of China’s Soft Power, and was going to do something about it, one would see that there are others clearly talking about the fact that China has yet to achieve parity in some areas:

For China not to have a contribution to the rest of the world would be a “pity,” he said. “I feel shame before my ancestors,” he added, saying he wants kids to be proud of their “national culture.”

… to which he is launching a new venture to promote Taichi.

Which leads me to ask.

Why is China struggling with the issue of soft power?

Why, in a time where its economy has provided the a primary source of fuel for other economies, can it not be “recognized”? It is a situation where China needs to do more? Is it about resistance to China having a seat at the table? Or is it that the Chinese abuse the power they have and are not showing themselves to be worthy of more?

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