Why China and Russia Don’t Do Soft Power
Joseph Nye, the man who coined the term “soft power” to distinguish how states can wield power other than by coercion or purchase, weighs in at Foreign Policy on why Russia and China’s essays into soft power have fallen flat so far:
The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority). But combining these resources is not always easy.
Establishing, say, a Confucius Institute in Manila to teach Chinese culture might help produce soft power, but it is less likely to do so in a context where China has just bullied the Philippines over possession of Scarborough Reef. Similarly, Putin has told his diplomats that “the priority has been shifting to the literate use of soft power, strengthening positions of the Russian language,” but as Russian scholar Sergei Karaganov noted in the aftermath of the dispute with Georgia, Russia has to use “hard power, including military force, because it lives in a much more dangerous world … and because it has little soft power — that is, social, cultural, political and economic attractiveness.”
I think that one of China’s problems in harnessing soft power to further its goals is that nobody wants what the Chinese leadership wants other than the world’s worst dictators.
Over the last decade or so we’ve done a pretty masterful job of undermining our own soft power. We might want to think about how we might go about remedying that and what the costs of reducing our soft power might be.