Thursday, 22 March 2012

Joseph Nye on China

I have just found this short clip of a lecture delivered by Joseph Nye in 2011.

I think that there are two problems with Professor Nye's ideas and these are issues that have troubled me since I have revisted his work for my current research. First, I do not understand why soft power has to be located within a competitive framework. Why should we be so concerned if China is 'catching up' with the US in soft power terms? Surely this is a mindset that feeds the irrational debates about the so-called 'China threat', when understanding the soft dimension of power is a way to circumvent such competitive inclinations. It also demonstrates that the de-Westernisation of soft power is an urgent issue, since this competitive frame is a consequence of understanding soft power via the Anglo-American approach.

Second, the clip demonstrates how confusing the whole idea of soft power really is. If soft power is an intangible, something that cannot be strategised and is ultimately a consequence of who you are and what you do, rather than what you say or what you claim to be, then such a worry about China 'catching up' is misplaced, as is a measurement of soft power based on quantifying and analysing such outputs as the number of Confucius Institutes, the number of TV stations broadcasting from China etc.

Professor Nye is correct, however, to identify the consequences of China's political decisions and actions on its soft power capacity; polls repeatedly show that the more China invests in soft power activities (and it is the highest spender in Asian on such activities) China's image has actually gone down. In other words, there is no clear correlation between investment in soft power and the capacity to persuade audiences to embrace a more positive image. Policy - who you are, what you do and what you stand for - will always be the most important consideration.


  1. Hey professor! I agree with your first point -- scholars should not be "so concerned if China is 'catching up' with the US in soft power terms." US is so aggressive in exporting its McDonald and Hollywood culture and usually makes others uncomfortable and doubt it's doing cultural-colonization. In this sense, China would never be equal to US...The basic principle of soft power strategy, is to make others understand you better, in my opinion.

  2. Hey professor!
    I suggest you have a look at the 2012 China Culture Year held in Turkey. As soft power strategy, Culture Year is an important part in our foreign diplomacy, such as the one held in France a few years ago. You could make a real analysis of it...
    Fresh and juicy materials to add into your research...

  3. Interesting comments. Though, I wonder how the US is aggressive in exporting its McDonalds and Hollywood culture? And if the basic principle of soft power strategy is to make others understand you better, how does it relates to China? Does China care about the perceptions of others? And how does China use soft power in a way that others understand it better?