Monday, August 13, 2007

China's Diplomacy: "Soft" vs. "Hard" Power

Anyone familiar with Taiwan's quest for representation in international orgs like the UN and WHO knows well that the largest obstacle for Taiwan is Beijing's economic influence over the international community. Yesterday in the Washington Times Steven W. Mosher explained the nature of China's diplomatic power in his review of Joshua Kurlantzick's new book, Charm Offensive. He argues that Mr. Kurlantzick improperly uses the term "soft power"—a term originally used to describe America' Cold War influence on people watching the West from behind the Iron Curtain—to classify the power China excersizes over developing countries and established dictatorships today. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Mosher's review:

In fact, one can name a corrupt, dictatorial regime anywhere in the world — and Mr. Kurlantzick names many — and its closest major ally is invariably the People's Republic of China, all too ready to supply guns, butter or comradely encouragement to defy the United States...

...What he [Kurlantzick] disarmingly calls a "charm offensive" based largely on China's supposedly growing "soft power" is in reality something far more ominous: It is the deliberate targeting of poor, developing nations with a potent combination of state-driven investment, trade, arms sales and aid (including bribes to high officials and secret subsidies to political parties), with the aim of cementing the allegiance of governing elites to Beijing...

...There is almost no resemblance between [the concept of 'soft power'] and China's current efforts to buy influence. While China's brand of Leninist capitalism and its disdain for human rights may attract favorable notice from dictators, even here China's new clout is fundamentally based on what Mr. [Joseph] Nye called "the hard power of threats or payments."

That is to say, it is in return for football stadiums, public works projects, exchange programs, generous aid packages, not to mention support in controversies with the United States and U.S.-led international organizations, that leaders in dozens of countries are cozying up to China. We are witnessing an excersize in hard power, not soft.

Mr. Mosher does a good job in this review of capturing the misleading nature of China's diplomatic activities worldwide—a 'schmooze ruse' that apparently also misled Kurlantzick in his evaluation of Beijing's growing influence. China has been ever-increasingly throwing its economic weight around, not by benevolently investing in disadvantaged countries for the betterment of humanity, but rather by bolstering diplomatically isolated or struggling nations in a very calculated way—making it clear to the leaders of those countries that they are expected to tow the China line in return.

China's use of hard economic power has solidified Beijing's influence over international organizations and confounded efforts by the West to isolate inhumane and irresponsible governments. Hopefully, Taiwan and other countries/regions detrimented by China's economic realpolitik will be able to convince the United States and other leading nations that it is in our best interest to check this growing form of Chinese power. Herein lies the most feasible path to the international participation Taiwan seeks.