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Does India have an edge over China in its display of its soft power in the world?

Question submitted by Vikas, from American University, November 4, 2013

Answered by: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy


Indian and Chinese soft power is manifested in a variety of mediums, including traditional and pop culture, academic exchanges, and cuisine. Since soft power emanates from a country's history, culture, domestic political arrangements and civil society, it is difficult to measure its impact in a quantitative way as can be done with some forms of economic or military power, including aid and investment, infrastructure projects, and militarization. Thus, the effects of soft power are largely in the eye of the beholder.

That said, in some instances, India demonstrates an edge over China in the display of soft power. For instance, in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines–where the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project shows strong negative sentiments toward China prevail–India's strategic use of soft power has supported a foreign policy approach that emphasizes intergovernmental cooperation, negotiated settlements, and economic collaboration.

India now enjoys a stronger strategic partnership with Japan, deeper bilateral trade and economic ties with South Korea, and a comprehensive upgrade of bilateral relations with the Philippines. In addition to the growing popularity of cultural products including Bollywood movies and yoga, as the world's largest democracy, India has a natural advantage over autocratic China in the soft power realm among some audiences.

Unlike China, India's rise, foreign policy objectives, and democratic governing structure are not perceived as threatening by the countries of southeast and east Asia.