Sunday, 15 April 2018

A tale of two soft powers: Wales and Taiwan

As readers of my work will already know, I depart from the idea that "culture" is a defining feature of a nation-state's soft power capacity. Rather, I argue that soft power derives from political institutions and processes; their transparency and accountability, the guaranteed freedoms of assembly, speech, and the right to criticise one's own government; and from the way governments behave towards both their own citizens and towards citizens of other nation-states. Sometimes, this means allowing difficult, uncomfortable and unpalatable opinions to surface.

Two stories appeared in 48 hours to demonstrate the considerable soft power capacity of both Taiwan and Wales. Courtesy of Klaus Bardenhagen, a German reporter who lives and works in Taiwan, I found this photo of pro-China activists in Taiwan.

This will make many people living inside and outside Taiwan uneasy. However, this is soft power in action. Taiwan is sending a positive message to the international community that it tolerates the public expression of opinions and political positions that may be contrary to mainstream ideas. This communicates Taiwan's democratic values, and stands as a powerful contrast to the PRC's political culture: would China's government allow or tolerate any such mobilisation for Taiwan's independence?

Wales has a different, though equally powerful narrative, one that moves beyond the expression of Welsh culture. On 12th April 2018, BBC Wales news reported how 'A family who fled the war in Syria have thanked a Ceredigion town for helping them rebuild their lives'. Readers learn that 'The Alchikh family came to Wales as part of the Home Office's community sponsorship scheme after local group Croeso Telfi raised thousands of pounds to take part'. You can see the BBC's story here: Syrian refugees thank people of Cardigan for help. As I have said many times, actions always speak louder than words, and by embracing refugees Wales is projecting a positive message about core values; and it helps not because it wishes to be seen to be helping, but just to help - the most powerful  message of all.

Wales and Taiwan have tremendous soft power capacities - for example, by upholding values of common decency, treating the vulnerable and dissenting opinions well and with respect - but I argue they both need help to identify and communicate this soft power.



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