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Chinese soft power – dragon using smart diplomacy

by on April 4, 2014


The end of the 20th century saw the collapse of the bipolar system, allowing new states to rise to the international arena and grow their importance via diplomatic activity. One of those states was Communist China that experienced tremendous economic growth and development rates in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Since then it has become one of the key players on the international arena and it is argued that the main reason for such success was the smart use of public diplomacy and soft power by the Chinese government. 


The economic boom of the late 20th century followed by successes in 21st century created conditions at which China is strengthening its positions around the globe. Joshua Kurlantzick argues that “When Nye coined the term soft power, he excluded elements like investment and trade and formal diplomacy and aid – elements he considered more concrete carrots and sticks[1]. This ultimately shows that the Chinese government also used ways of affecting other states “softly”, which are not mentioned by Nye in first place. This could mean that the Chinese managed to develop Nye’s theory even further, to put up to a new level. “In the context of China, both the Chinese government and many nations influenced by China enunciate a broader idea of soft power than did Nye. For the Chinese, soft power means anything outside of the military and security realm, including not only popular culture and public diplomacy but also more coercive economic and diplomatic levers like aid and investment and participation in multilateral organizations”[2].

So diplomacy, ability to grant significant economic aid achieved by economic growth, including investments and trade preferences, as well as humanitarian programs, spread of values and making their culture more and more attractive to millions of people are the ways China is having a positive effect on foreign public. An application of Beijing Consensus’ economic-political model allowed China to maintain an extremely high economic development, which today allows them to make large investments. What’s more, those investments from China are even more attractive to Third World states comparing to the investments from the West, as China does not put specific demands before hand, those like adopting and preserving human rights, opening up the markets, which is one of the key values for Western liberal societies. In general, those states that choose Chinese investment programs don’t have to amend their economic structures for their own harm and for good of the investor. This is the ground where China overplays its opponents.

Merging with the principle and idea of soft power, the diplomacy of PRC itself keeps transforming. As evidence, China increased the number of meetings on high levels between the heads of states and ministers; Chinese government is promoting qualifications and professionalism of their diplomats that get their degrees in the most prestigious universities around the world. China is furthermore creating an image of a strong but a peaceful state, as for example China is the second country after France by the quantity of soldiers that are sent in various regions of the planet under the aegis of the UN.


Mentioning the stable and impressive economic growth and development of PRC, with its effects on soft power and public diplomacy, we can say that the idea that was responsible for such leap forward, the Beijing Consensus, with its political and economic models is one out of 2 fundamental concepts, allowed China to get to a position where it is today.

 The second concept is called “Harmonious World”, firstly mentioned in 2004. This concept consists of 4 main parts, the first of which is “democratization of international relations, all states are participating equitably”[1]. The second one is “justice and common prosperity”[2], which implies reducing the gap between core and periphery states of the world by any sort of help. The third one is “diversity and tolerance”[3], arguing for the principle of cultural relativism around the world, criticizing the imposition of Western values. And fourth one is “peaceful resolution of international conflicts”[4], most importantly through a dialogue and international cooperation, with relations development and trust building. Those could be considered as the key aspects of China’s government soft power.


Acknowledging the advantages of those aspects of soft power, China now is attempting to develop relations and show its presence in various parts of the world, especially in the developing countries of Africa, South America, Middle East and South East Asia. “Countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have increasingly cut off even their informal ties to Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a province of China”[5]. What’s most important, it is not only South East Asia that is being largely affected and seeks cooperation with China, as they had long history of various sort of relations and interlinks, but many other states from different parts of the world are trying to get closer to China as one of the poles of modern global politics. States like Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Iran are driving away from America and its soft power effects and are putting their emphasis on setting ties with China instead. “Nations from Venezuela to Uzbekistan have proven increasingly willing to work with China, whether that means Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez vowing to reorient his massive oil industry toward Beijing and away from America, or Uzbek leader Islam Karimov tossing US forces out of bases from his country”[6]. It is worth mentioning that at present China has leading positions in some international structures, like IMF, UN as well as a number of regional institutes like BRIC, SCO and others. Not just participating, but playing a significant role in those, China is attempting to be not simply a participant of the international diplomacy, but act as one of the centers of multi-polar world today.


[1] Wang, Jian “Soft Power in China: Public Diplomacy Through Communication” p 42


[2] Ibid p 42


[3] Ibid p 42


[4] Ibid p 42


[5] Joshua Kurlantzick “Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World”  p 10


[6] Ibid p10


[1] Joshua Kurlantzick “Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World” p6


[2] Ibid p6


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