Over the past two decades, subsequent Chinese governments have invested heavily in soft power, particularly in developing regions of the world. Beginning in the early 2000s, Beijing began dramatically boosting its aid outlays, promoting new cultural and educational exchanges, expanding and modernizing Chinese media outlets overseas (some, potentially, with Russia’s outlets as a model), and increasing training for foreign officials in China, among other measures. Overall, the goal of these soft power efforts seems to be similar to soft power strategies of other major powers, including the United States, France, Britain, and Japan: to bolster China’s reputation overseas, and potentially make it easier for Beijing to gain other, more tangible foreign policy goals. For instance, if China is perceived favorably in foreign nations, it may be easier for Beijing to negotiate free trade deals with other nations, launch joint military operations, boost diplomatic relations, and achieve other goals.
A decade or so ago, Beijing appeared to be succeeding in its soft power strategy. It had utilized many of these soft power methods to raise its favorability around the world, and to soothe concerns in Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and South Asia about China’s growing diplomatic, economic, and strategic influence. But that strategy has come into conflict, in Southeast Asia, with China’s hard power aims.
I participated in an online forum on China’s soft power organized by the National Endowment for Democracy. You can see my part of it, and all the responses, here.