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Rising Barriers to Indian Soft Power in Afghanistan

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Over the course of last two decades, India has presented itself as a major player in Afghanistan in the realm of soft power. Through strategically investing in multi-sectorial social-economic activities, India has not just presented an alternative to the hard power tactics that Afghanistan has witnessed from Pakistan, it has also won the ‘hearts and minds’ with the ideas of nation building and cultural influence through art, culture, music, education opportunities and economic investments.  This should conclude in the verdict that India holds a key position in any engagement that focuses on Afghanistan’s future and that India can affect the course of developments keeping in view its own national interests. However, this seems far from reality as it can be argued that today India is being limited by the barriers to its soft power and thus, the fears of losing relevance in Afghanistan might be becoming a reality.

What is ‘Soft power’ and ‘Hard power ‘?

Joseph Nye defines soft power as the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment, and that a country’s soft power rests on its resources – culture, political values and foreign policies. In contrast, hard power involves the ‘ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will’. When we look at the Indian soft power context in Afghanistan, two contrasting phenomena can be observed at play today. On one hand, where India’s soft power in Afghanistan is seen as paramount by most scholars and is expected to make India a major actor in the region and thus a participant in the ongoing Afghan peace process, India found itself somehow sidelined in a process where actors like Pakistan, China, and Turkey are playing a major role who base themselves on a foundation of hard power in Afghanistan.

India’s Soft Power in Afghanistan

“Two international surveys in Afghanistan indicated that India is the most popular foreign country there- all of this without much Indian hard power on display”, noted Rani Mullen in 2015. She highlights that India in 2012-13 allocated over 2000 study and training fellowships to Afghanistan, trained a generation of civil servants and potential key-makers  and the fact that Hamid Karzai, former Afghanistan president studied in India undoubtedly enabled India to secure a close relationship with Afghanistan and an official strategic partnership, without having to flex a hard power muscle.  Further taking in account the recent Indian record, it can be said that India has been a key development partner in Afghanistan, having achieved 400 projects in 34 provinces, built over 200 schools, sponsored thousands of scholarships and supplied wheat, medical facilities and more recently, COVID aid. The construction of Afghan parliament building and the Salma dam (also revered as Afghan-India Friendship Dam), stands testimony to the Indian support towards Afghanistan’s development. It has often been highlighted that unlike other actors, India’s endeavor to help Afghanistan has no other agenda than thestability and development of Afghanistan. However, today, India finds itself restricted in leveraging its soft power in Afghanistan, due to several reasons.

The 21st Century Race for Soft Power in Afghanistan

In sphere of aid and economic assistance, which Mullen notes is one of the key soft power tools, India has found a tough competitor in China, who has deep pockets and ambitions to overshadow Indian efforts. India and China both have major geopolitical interests in Afghanistan who see Afghanistan as the gateway to an oil and resource rich Central Asia and to European markets besides the factors related to own national security due to growing extremism in the region. Both nations are now pushing hard to be the bigger stakeholder in the infrastructure and development of Afghan economy.  However, where India is finding it increasingly hard to have access to Afghanistan, and have also been ‘Dropped’ recently from Chabahar rail project (which India see as the connectivity link to Afghanistan) by Iran due to lack  of active engagement from India, China has been successful in making inroads, exemplified in the recent project of ‘Sino-Afghan Special Railway Transportation’ which links Afghanistan to China, via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, thus, integrating Afghanistan into the USD 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Moving to the sphere of culture and media, India is now facing off against a rising Turkey. In his article in 2008, Shashi Tharoor had noted that the television mega-serial “ Kyu ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” had become India’s biggest asset in Afghanistan where it was watched by 94 percent of Afghans. Today, this space is dominated by Turkish media. “ Turkey’s efforts in terms of humanitarian efforts and education across the Muslim world have contributed to its rising influence on a social and cultural level, namely the global success of its soap operas”, notes Tanya Goudsouzian, a Canadian journalist covering Afghanistan for over 15 years. She emphasizes on the phenomenon that “War-weary Afghans have tuned in to Turkish dramas, which have proven to be culturally appropriate alternatives to Bollywood’s song-and-dance escapism and Hollywood’s ‘America saves the world’ propaganda.” In other opinions too, Tukey enjoys an increasingly privileged position in Afghanistan society whose troops on the group as part of NATO forces have been seen in a different light than troops from other ­countries and have not been seen as foreign invaders. In sphere of education, Turkish education is again becoming popular among Afghan families. The ethnic linkages with minorities like Uzbek minority serves as an added advantage for deepening the ties.  Further, a growing closeness with Pakistan, has helped Turkey to gain inroads and insights and thus become a major internal stakeholder in Afghanistan rather than just a friendly nation 1700 miles away.

What’s Ahead?

It can be argued that gains from India’s soft power in Afghanistan remains a case of unrealized potential due to the absence of credible hard power. Kabir Taneja, fellow at the Observer Research Foundation notes that India’s position of goodwill in Afghanistan, gained due to a non-interventionist approach also limits India’s aspirations of becoming a superpower, as there is little point to soft power if one cannot back it with hard power to protect their interests . In the era of peace process, Indian soft power is now pitted against the hard power elements of Pakistan which is pro-Taliban, and China, who uses soft power as a direct extension of its hard power, then there is Turkey, who might be on its way to replace India in the realm of media content through its rising popularity among the Muslim world. In this situation, Indian policymakers have their work cut-out which is to think about the relevance of Indian soft power without a support of hard power tools to decide both short-term and long-term plans in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. It will be imperative to not only recalculate the tools used for deploying soft power, but also to figure out India’s own rule in regional geopolitics if it wants to continue a soft power approach sans hard power credibility on ground.

Divyanshu Jindal, Centre Coordinator at Centre for Afghanistan Studies and M.A candidate in International Relations at O.P Jindal Global University, Haryana, India.

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Diplomacy

The Arts & Culture Economy: Cultural Diplomacy

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Photo: Nick Pryde/Unsplash

The arts produce a unique combination of social, cultural, and economic benefits, which cities across the Country could increasingly recognizing and encouraging. The arts and culture industry attracts innovative, vibrant new businesses in fields such as publishing, advertising, music, dance, design, and architecture, and creates jobs for artists who anchor local cultural production.

Arts and culture can also play a key role in urban revitalization and community renewal, as well as the development of cultural tourism opportunities and the enhancement of a city or state’s public image.

The arts and culture sector also has a role to play in the development of innovation hubs, geographic clusters of capital and talent that can fuel economic growth and innovation in areas such as design, technology and manufacturing.

Art, in its many forms, exists in every community, culture and country. It has been around since the beginning of civilization itself, paintings etched on the walls of caves or sculptures carved out of stone. Humans have always felt the need for expression

In today’s world, we know that art can be a major economic force, yet we continue to question the worth of it. It has historically been seen as accessible only to the elite class. Today, it has transcended into everyone’s daily lives, stopping us in our fast-track lives to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and at times, enhancing the way we think and behave. It adds that punch of colour, uplifting the space to compliment the surroundings. This need of Art is the day to day life has made it into a full blown business. Gone are the days when it was not considered a medium for business and only had an intellectual value. 

Here are seven quick ways to prove that art is genuinely a good business avenue these days.

Art Buying and Selling-  The traditional and the most comfortable way of investing in a piece of art, can be a painting or a sculpture. One goes to an art gallery and picks up from the stock of work that already exists and the cycle of buying and selling is maintained thereon.

Art Commissioning-  This is a more challenging because it is customized.A bespoke piece is a lot more personal and aesthetically pleasing. The artist creates something for you from scratch rather than buying off the shelf. This is dependent on the space, style, budget and a many other variables. Art Commissioners are very much in demand these days because of the increasing trend of commercial and residential artworks and installations.

Art Restoration-  Over the years the hues in paintings start to fade away due to humidity and pollution in the environment. Art professionals are appointed to study the style of the artist and touch up the pieces to keep it from looking dull. There are full time courses to study about it.

Art Valuation-  With every passing year a piece of art, just like real jewelry appreciates in value if created by the big artists. If an artwork is bought when an artist is new and budding, maybe 20 years down the line its value has tripled. A professional is then appointed to value the art in monetary terms and collectors usually have an entire portfolio of art to maintain. This is called portfolio management, a well-known term for anyone who deals in the Share market.

Art Insurance-  When an art investor or collector buys an expensive piece of art or a gallery is shipping a collectable item, an insurance needs to be purchased against the piece. The amount paid for insurance is directly dependent on the valuation of the artwork. There are banks and institutions that specialize in this field which is a limited and niche area within art. Art insurance works in the same way as travel or life insurance which is dependent on the package that you choose.

Art as a gifting option-  A painting, sculpture or a portrait makes a great gift for weddings, house warming parties and milestones. Getting a piece commissioned has an element of personalization. Buying something from a gallery art fair or online is also possible. There are so many ecommerce ventures in this space that one does not need any evidence to validate this point.

Art Camps and Workshops-  Children and adults today have all the resources to learn and grow so easily with several art camps and workshops happening all year around. This is an essential exercise for a child’s development and growth whereas it’s one of the best destressing outlets for adults.  So there are many companies and organizations who organize these exclusive art camps.

Art can inspire us, make us happy, or even motivate us. Living in a purely functional world would lack meaning for us as human beings. If we try to run our lives on the metrics, we may end up bored and empty. A steep rise in wealth has fueled art market.

As art buyers increase in numbers, along with their appetite for luxury, it’s touched off a race among service providers, trying to break into the market.

For the last century, financial and institutional capital have been the priority leverage points for addressing society’s challenges. I deeply believe that, in the future, human, social, and creative capital will have the greatest impact.

And this is where arts and culture are a necessity. 

There is no discipline that nurtures and sparks the cognitive ability to imagine, and unleashes creativity and innovation, more than arts and culture. There is no approach that breaks barriers, connects across cultural differences, and engages our shared values more than arts and culture. There is no investment that connects us to each other, moves us to action, and strengthens our ability to make collective choices more than arts and culture.

To unlock this lever for change, I believe we must do several things:

Focus on strategies that foster real collaboration—finding the best ways to leverage existing structures. 

Identify the stakeholders who must join, support, and advocate for solutions—we must reach beyond the “choir” to deeply understand the values, needs, and motivators of other partners including development organizations, business, neighborhood, and civic leaders. 

Identifying solutions (programs, structures, policies, practices, and financial models) that might be outside our comfort zone 

Learn from ourselves and others—a great deal of thinking and work has been done and has changed the positioning, importance, and funding in many other arenas.

Recognize that it will be hard and will take a long-term commitment—this is not a simple or obvious task. The political challenges, economic constraints, competing interests, priority gaps, and complexities are all real and significant challenges.

And ultimately we must:

Seize the moment—we are in a time of massive economic challenge, political, and generational change. Historically, the most significant reforms and investments in social capital and game-changing approaches have been accomplished during similar periods of challenge and transformation. We are in a time when policymakers will have to address significant structural changes and where the body politic is in play with pendulum swings left and right that demonstrate a willingness to risk the status quo.

Events of this magnitude can be explained and understood by making a brief but important introduction on what is Cultural Diplomacy and its enormous benefits for countries that adopt such diplomacy to emerge in the international context.

“Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national interests; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society.”

Whilst the term “cultural diplomacy” has only recently been established, evidence of its practice can be seen throughout history and has existed for centuries. Explorers, travelers, traders, teachers and artists can be all considered living examples of “informal ambassadors” or early “cultural diplomats” (for example, the establishment of regular trade routes enables a frequent exchange of information and cultural gifts between traders and government representatives). Such deliberate efforts of cultural exchange can be identified as early examples of cultural diplomacy. Indeed, any person who interacts with different cultures, (currently or in the past), facilitates a form of cultural exchange, which can take place in fields such as art, sports, literature, music, science, business & economy and beyond.Through the interaction of peoples, the exchange of language, religion, ideas, arts and societal structures have consistently improved relations between divergent groups.

Cultural Diplomacy in Practice Cultural diplomacy in practice (or applied cultural diplomacy) is the application and implementation of the theory of cultural diplomacy, including all models that have been practiced throughout history by individual, community, state or institutional actors in order to facilitate and improve relations and collaboration between disparate cultures. These models include for example diverse cultural exchange programs, international delegations (e.g., American jazz ambassadors) or sports competitions. The examples are uniquely able to affect intercultural and interfaith understanding and promote reconciliation.

The Importance of Cultural Diplomacy in an increasingly globalized, interdependent world, in which the proliferation of mass communication technology ensures we all have greater access to each other than ever before, cultural diplomacy is critical to fostering peace & stability throughout the world. Cultural diplomacy, when learned and applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence the “Global Public Opinion” and ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations, which can accelerate the realization of the 5 principles below. By accomplishing the first principle, one enables the second, which in turn enables the third until the fifth ultimate principle of global peace and stability is achieved.

The principles are:

  • Respect & Recognition of Cultural Diversity & Heritage
  • Global Intercultural Dialogue
  • Justice, Equality & Interdependence
  • The Protection of International Human Rights
  • Global Peace & Stability

Cultural Diplomacy & the Public Sector, Two broad approaches to conducting regional and international relations can be distinguished; that of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’, but this is another story.

Cultural Diplomacy & the Private Sector As the move towards more socially responsible business practices gains momentum, the ability to understand and embrace the different values and needs of diverse cultures and societies becomes ever more important. There are many reasons why corporations need to be aware of the differences between cultures in their strategic decision-making process and adopt cultural diplomacy models into their agenda:

  • In the era of growing social awareness, corporates with culturally sensitive marketing plans and campaigns will enjoy a positive public opinion and good image, thus financially perform better.
  • Companies seeking to expand abroad will encounter problems unless they conduct research into, and act according to the cultural differences with the host country.
  • Companies with a national focus face a related challenge in ensuring that they are aware of and sensitive to national cultural minorities.

Purpose:

Ultimately, the goal of cultural diplomacy is to influence a foreign audience and use that influence, which is built up over the long term, as a sort of good will reserve to win support for policies. It seeks to harness the elements of culture to induce foreigners to:

  • Have a positive view of the country’s people, culture and policies,
  • Induce greater cooperation between nations,
  • Aid in changing the policies or political environment of the target nation,
  • Prevent, manage and mitigate conflict with the target nation.

In turn, cultural diplomacy can help a nation better understand the foreign nation it is engaged with and foster mutual understanding. Cultural diplomacy is a way of conducting international relations without expecting anything in return in the way that traditional diplomacy typically expects. Cultural exchange programs work as a medium to relay a favourable impression of the foreign country in order to gain outsiders’ understanding and approval in their cultural practices and naturalize their social norms among other cultures.

Generally, cultural diplomacy is more focused on the longer term and less on specific policy matters. The intent is to build up influence over the long term for when it is needed by engaging people directly. This influence has implications ranging from national security to increasing tourism and commercial opportunities. It allows the government to create a “foundation of trust” and a mutual understanding that is neutral and built on people-to-people contact. Another unique and important element of cultural diplomacy is its ability to reach youth, non-elites and other audiences outside of the traditional embassy circuit. In short, cultural diplomacy plants the seeds of ideals, ideas, political arguments, spiritual perceptions and a general view point of the world that may or may not flourish in a foreign nation.

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Diplomacy

Multilateralism Without the USA

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

It has already done so for a long time. As I have described earlier: “Nobody waits for Biden” (or the USA). The World is everywhere moving fast around the USA – leaving an ever more bewildered USA behind. US President Biden doesn’t get it. Biden still lives in his inner past experiences of the Cold War and the subsequent American World Order – both gone worlds.

Developments of the past three years

Here are some recent events, which highlight this strategic development:

1. The CPTPP was driven through by the other countries in 2018, after Trump putting “America First” jumped it. This now leaves Biden in a dilemma with his Trump mimic of Buy American (first).

2. The EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement was agreed in June 2019. A true multilateral agreement, not between countries, but between blocks of countries, two of the World’s Mega-Regions.

3. The Brazil-China trade pact in 2019, a result of over 10 years of strategic partnership. Brazil-China is an indicative case of a growing Mega-Region to Mega-Region multilateral cooperation as it involves most of South America. For example, it drives ambitious transcontinental South American infrastructure plans, which include to connect Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia with the growing Pacific shipping between Peru and China. Speak of “BRI Latino”.

4. The RCEP was initiated and in 2020 driven to conclusion by the ASEAN – not by China. The US is out. RCEP unites a complex of relationships between ASEAN, China, Japan, Korea, and Australia.

5. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was driven through by the EU with China in the very last days of 2020, on 28 December – directly against the USA. China opens opportunities with the CAI agreement, while the USA diminishes with “Buy American”. Cars are a good illustration. China is a far bigger car market than the USA. With 25 million cars sold in 2019, China’s car market is nearly 50% bigger than the US car market. This perfectly illustrates China’s trade potential vs. the USA. China’s car market is not only so much bigger – China may double. In contrast, the USA car market completely stagnates. No, China did not just “drive a wedge” between the EU and the USA with the CAI agreement – the EU wants it. To be competitive in products like cars, the EU needs to be in China. The US loses out by staying out. The EU wants factories in China.

6. China, Russia, and Turkey make big agreements without the USA. Russia and Turkey decide on peace and the whole future of places like Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving the USA in the cold. They deal with Iran very much as they want.

7. India this year presses harder for an EU trade agreement. That the EU recently made the CAI agreement with China does not keep India away from seeking business with the EU. We see complex multilateral relations develop, not involving the USA.

8. The EU just decided (with China surely agreeing) to make the Euro a world-currency everywhere outside the USA. Here, the EU acts in direct contradiction to the American “Longer Telegram” which is clearly US President Biden’s China strategy. In Biden’s “Longer Telegram” China strategy, Biden wants a supreme dollar hegemony. Biden also wants dollar hegemony to run mammoth US deficits. Nobody else needs that. The EU wants to protect itself financially against the USA, including the possible US takeovers of leading EU tech companies. China is on – USA falls off.

More examples – a long-term trend

On top of the recent eight examples above, there is a range of multilateral developments which for several years have been running, fully independently of the USA. A good example is the complex EU-Russia-China cooperation the past decade which has created an exceptionally efficient railroad corridor of over 11,000 km from Chongqing to Duisburg. Not just without the US – even against the US. The Eurasian Landbridge railroad system is a great example of the emerging new multilateralism not involving the USA. It started in the early 2010’s and a decade later, it now involves more than the Mega-Region to Mega-Region level of EU, Eurasia, and China. It spreads out to individual EU and Central Asian countries. It furthers sprawling public as well as private business. And it is increasingly multitiered, involving Mega-Regional, Regional, national, and subnational authorities like Chinese province governments. We also have the Nord Stream gas cooperation Germany-Russia. Even against US sanctions. Imagine US reactions, if the EU for “climate-security” had tried to sanction against the US-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. Coming up, we have the strategic multilateral Africa-Europe partnership between the EU and the African Union (the AU). This is a growing multi-sectoral Mega-Regional cooperation involving trade, jobs, security, immigration, digital development, green transition etc. The USA is not involved. These examples all confirm the fast proliferation of successful multilateral agreements, cooperation, and understandings actively involving several of the World’s Regions – except the USA.

North American developments

The deepening of Canada’s multilateral cooperation to EU with the CETA trade deal in 2017 is also indicative of global cooperations increasing all the way round the USA – leaving the US rather alone. Instead of strengthening North American relations, the USA repeatedly sinks relations with its only two neighbors. The new North American free trade agreement USMCA has harder “local content” requirements and is thus substantially less favorable to Canada and Mexico than the NAFTA which is replaced. For instance, auto parts must now have 75% North American content. The USMCA also widely mandates a minimum wage in Mexico and Canada of 16 dollars/hour – the current US minimum wage is only 7.25 dollars. Even President Biden’s proposed minimum wage of 15 dollars/hour will still be one dollar less than what the USMCA mandates US neighbors – making unskilled Mexican workers uncompetitive. Canada’s steel exports are the biggest victim of US steel-sanctions aimed at China, ostensibly for “security reasons”. A hard hit on Canadian (and S.Korean) steel workers, which are military partners with the USA. And there is no sign that President Biden will reverse US protectionism. Recently, US President Biden with the stroke of his pen on a presidential order, unilaterally makes lost money out of 30 billions which Canada has at stake in the Keystone XL pipeline to the USA. Biden delivers a gut punch to Canada. President Biden’s “Buy America” order forbids not only allied EU, Japanese and Korean suppliers, but also Canadian and Mexican companies to supply the US government. Biden breaks multilateral commitments to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) under the WTO. Canada and Mexico are consistently being alienated by the USA and will increasingly need multilateral ties with others: The EU – and China.

Theoretical underpinnings

Multilateralism without a hegemonic power (USA) has not only been happening for a long time – it even accelerates enormously, independently of the USA. The World is NOT waiting for newly elected US President Biden and his national security advisor Jake Sullivan with his “Longer Telegram” misconceptions. We see the emergence of the Mega-Regions, which I identified and described last year.

The World’s Mega-Regions integrate internally – and they make deals with each other externally. The USA is a single exemption to the development of Mega-Regions. Instead of integrating North America into a Mega-Region of shared governance, a “Buy America First” USA continues to consistently split itself from its two neighbors Mexico and Canada. The World of Regions is much-much more geopolitically complex than the bipolar or unipolar World ever were. The rules have changed – again. It is an entirely different reality from the obsolete imaginations of US President Biden and his team. As I stated in an interview of 7 January, published 21 January 2021 – Biden and the USA have much narrower space for maneuver than Biden and his team understand. The previous examples demonstrate how the new Regional World structure is radically more composite and multitiered than the bipolar or unipolar worlds were. Inside Mega-Regions you have other Regions. And in them even smaller Regions (sometimes criss-crossing). It is like the dolls inside dolls of the smiling Babushka nesting dolls, which I used in the picture with the USA marching off to its own perfect storm. (correctly, Matryoshka dolls, see picture below).

Africa, for example, is a Mega-Region. But inside, Africa’s Mega-Region is organized into 8 official Regional Economic Communities (RECs), generally with regional parliaments under the Africa Union (AU) Parliament. And most of these 8 African Regions are criss-crossing each other. Africa illustrates the fractal World structure (regions-within-and-across-regions) which we see today. In the Mega-Region of the EU, Spain with its own internal Regions is also an example of fractal geopolitical structures of regions-within-regions.

Expect to see a growth in multilateralism not only between Mega-Regions (ref. above) but also inside Mega-Regions and across tiers (levels of authority).

I saw these tendencies and wrote on them more than 5 years ago – see my 2016 paper The Future of Security

My work-paper 2016 on the Future of Security concludes with a chapter on China. Countries around China must increasingly find their own modus-vivendi with China, as US power there inexorably recedes. President Biden believes he can reverse that long-term trend – he cannot. The Future of Security is a work-paper still in progress. Mega-Regions add to my theory, and the examples in this paper add more pieces for a whole theory. We need that – to manage the World. We must intensely observe structures as the Multilateral Regional World develops – increasingly structures not involving the USA.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Chinese-style soft power

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US soft power once meant that the rest of the world dreamt of living like Americans. Recently, soft power is something attributed to China as well, but as much as all of us use Chinese-produced goods, no one really wishes to live in China. Upon closer inspection, China’s soft power is nothing more than lazily hidden strong power, i.e. attempts to achieve economic, political and military dominance through the use of force.

In response to China’s rapid economic growth, the establishment of networks of economic cooperation and its increased role on the global political stage, many political experts are tempted to talk about China’s soft power. However, most often they must talk about aggressive tactics employed by China that has nothing to do with the true meaning of soft power.

The wealth acquired by the Chinese through hard work began to worry the West when it became clear that China has aspirations to become a global superpower. China has the second largest defense budget, although it makes up only a third of that of the US. China has many trade partners, but they often complain that China tries to force unfair rules. Former US president Donald Trump began a trade war with China, and the EU has also accused China of favoring protectionism instead of a competition-based system. When in 2018 Canada, after a request by the US, detained Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, China responded by detaining several Canadians, although Huawei denied having any ties to the Chinese government.

China has territorial claims in the South China Sea, of which it reminds by holding military exercises and causing tensions in the region.

What concerns China’s soft power, the usual suspects are the Confucius Institutes, which have been established all over the globe, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Another soft outlet of influence is China’s participation in international organization. However, if we look closer at each of them, none can be considered soft power instruments.

The Confucius Institutes teach not only the Chinese language, but also the Chinese government’s worldview. Professors in the US, Canada and Europe have urged to close the Confucius Institutes that operate in their universities, saying that they restrict academic freedom.

There have also been allegations that the Chinese Embassy has attempted to disrupt meetings between Latvian and Tibetan representatives. Former head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Saeima (parliament) Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš revealed that in 2015, after a protest phone call from the Chinese ambassador, he tried to convince his colleagues not to welcome the Tibetan delegation in the Saeima. In 2013, after “instructions from higher authorities” posters advertising Dalai Lama’s lectures were removed from Riga International Airport, and since 2010 Latvia’s highest officials – president and the prime minister – have not officially met with Dalai Lama. The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises officials not to meet with Dalai Lama or ministers of the Central Tibetan Administration, as confirmed by Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Many nations cooperate with China, but quite often they complain about China enforcing unfair conditions. This is a state-level policy – to further economic relations with numerous countries, at the same time imposing different restrictions and obstacles against them in order to tip the scales economic benefit in China’s favor.

Nevertheless, none of this can hide the ugliness of China’s communist regime in the eyes of other nations, especially at a time when China is suspected of withholding information on the true extent of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, after the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019. Moreover, China is also being accused of Uyghur genocide, with more and more information on this issue coming to light in recent years.

Authoritarian regimes in their essence are incompatible with true soft power, as it’s three main pillars are an attractive culture, political values and a morally just foreign policy, and the only thing China has is an attractive culture. To compensate for the lack of benign political values and foreign policy, China employs means that cannot be considered part of the arsenal of soft power.

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