What Role Does Soft Power Play in China-U.S. Relations?

Media Coverage | May 07, 2018

Writing in The Diplomat, EWI research associate Farwa Aamer contends that global powers like China and the United States may stand to gain from a collaborative attitude toward "soft power."

While the economic and military dimensions of U.S.-China relations continue to receive the lion’s share of public attention, the role of “soft power” in the relationship between Washington and Beijing should not be underestimated. Although the United States has always maintained its supremacy as a globalization pioneer, China is rapidly intensifying its soft power potential and promises to leave no stone unturned in glorifying its international appeal. The question, however, remains whether China’s impassioned soft power strategy radically challenges the United States’ international position, especially in light of the latter receding from its globalist role, or if the concept will potentially kindle a sense of mutual understanding toward a reshaping of the global order.

Soft power, a term first introduced by Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye Jr., is largely defined as the ability to shape other’s preferences. Since its inception, the concept quickly became recognized as an indispensable component of public diplomacy and strategic communications. The United States was one of the first countries to acknowledge the essence of soft power and utilize it to amplify its global influence, particularly via the Marshall Plan that earned immense international accolade. Over the decades, the United States has successfully tapped all sociocultural mediums, including its prestigious Ivy League education system and its rich multimedia portfolio, in establishing a sweeping universal appeal. American companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft further expanded the country’s outreach and presence, enabling clear inroads into the everyday lives of global citizenry.

Read the full commentary.


Photo: "China Town in Philadelphia" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Ted Drake