The intense increase in the image and power China as a global actor having vast geopolitical and geo-economical determinations has been perhaps the biggest story of the 21st century. Quite lately, the one constituent which was not used much by the Chinese cache has been “soft power” which is an instrument of inducement as well as cultural or intellectual influence. Today China seems to be utilizing this tool as well and Pakistan is also making full use of it to boost ties with the said country.
The BRI is perceived as more than an economic play; it is a major strategic ingenuity with clear impacts towards the standing regional balance of power. This is not soft power as a novel meaning of the term. It is merely the prediction of national influence with a unique mixture of ethnic appeal, monetary incentives, and powerful content. Pakistan has of course utilized this as a brilliant exception making it a useful conduit on both ends wherein Pakistan gains in terms of development, economics and education while China can make its way to becoming an important actor in the global and regional power-play.
The idea of utilizing diplomacy and institutions to harbour image and prowess is perhaps one of the most generalized definitions of Soft Power. But this holds true, a lot of factors as encapsulated by Joseph Nye Jr. With this tool, the Chinese Foreign Office is spreading it’s out-reach towards not just South Asia but to other regions as well; Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and Middle East. This also includes the Chinese media, tourism and education exchange programs which have unleashed the raw force of Chinese Soft image as being a stable and well-endowed state. Furthermore, the media outlets like CCTV, Xinhua News etc. have given an Eastern voice to international media to the otherwise Western oriented media as well.
In Pakistan, with CPEC—the mega project which gave way to a new age of economic prosperity and development within Pakistan—the utility of Soft Power is clearly seen, in highly positive terms that is. There is a people-people, cultural, linguistic and educational affinity which Pakistan has come to have with China as a result of this soft power diplomacy. The airings of Chinese dramas, celebration of Chinese New Year, cultural exchange programs for the youth are just few examples where Pakistan is also utilizing this diplomacy as it gives Pakistani people a chance to experience China first-hand. From the year 2015-2017, according to many statistics, a countless number of Pakistani students and academics have gone to experience the Chinese education system via scholarships which promote positive relations between the two states.
What makes this endeavour interesting is that keeping up with this; China has not forsaken its military, strategic or political ties with Pakistan. It is keeping the military and strategic trade close as well as aiding Pakistan in the infrastructural and communication development. While keeping all this in its interest, China has also overcome the bridge between the less hard-core factors; the people-people communications, the culture etc.
Perhaps it acknowledges the fact that one of the default factors in Pak-US relations was the lack of Soft Power on time. There was the usage of cultural diplomacy by the US but there was a lack of positive imagining and people-people contact. This was further weakened by the drone strikes and the operations carried out by their forces. Chinese Policy Makers are keen on under-cutting these negative fringes and focus on the positive one, even while keeping the strategic discourse of Pak-China relations.
This works well for Pakistan as it is playing its cards right because it seems that the Pakistani Policy Makers have finally understood that by opening this gate, more Chinese companies will be willing to invest in Pakistan. The example of Huawei is pertinent in this case; while it is a multi-million dollar endeavour, on a social forum it serves as something far more than a technological and economical enterprise and goes on to connect people. Over only a few years, it has become one of the best cellular companies in Pakistan. This basically means that Huawei has become an outlet which is beneficial for Pakistanis as it is a company generating jobs for the people and the telecom sectors.
In one way, the Soft Power diplomacy by both states is perhaps the best way to secure the success of CPEC. This project, if relies solely on economics and the bigger principles of liberal ideals, while ignoring the other channels, can virtually meet stagnation. With other actors and entities being keen to disrupt this project in terms of politics and strategy, Soft Power diplomacy safeguards it because it builds a deeper internal connection.