China’s Reluctance to Develop its Soft Power

This is the term paper written for PS1101E Introduction to Politics. As usual, I only post the introduction and the conclusion here. Please feel free to contact me via email (refer to the Home page) if you would like to read some of my arguments in detail or offer any critic. 


Soft power, often associated with a country’s social and cultural charisma, allows a state to attract other states and obtain its preferred outcomes through non-coercive means (Nye 2012, 151). While many developed economies such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan have invested substantially in developing soft power, China, the emerging economic and military superpower in today’s world, largely fails to develop its soft power that matches its economic and military expansion. In this paper, I argue that although the rich Chinese history seems to be the biggest source of soft power for China, the Chinese government has not prioritised the development of soft power and largely preferred hard power when dealing with domestic and international issues. I argue for two reasons for such preference. The first one is ideological: the Chinese government prioritises the stability of one-party rule, embraces the neo-realist position in international relations and promotes a cult of personality about its current leaders while deliberately scorning historical figures. The second reason is social: with a wide income inequality across the country, the majority of Chinese citizens still have a materialistic mindset and perceive cultural development or any form of soft power as luxurious for the country.


To sum up, thanks to the rich Chinese history, the development of soft power is not impossible for China, but a matter of choice. The Chinese government clearly chooses to ensure its one-party rule at any cost while favouring hard power. Since China opens its economy in 1978 and integrates a capitalist economy into the Communist state, the government has been struggling to counter challenges to its authority while remaining open so as to benefit from international trade. The government believes that hard power is the solution to its dilemma and has little faith in soft power securing its one-party rule and the superiority of the Communist ideology. In my opinion, China, the emerging superpower, will continue relying on its hard power to achieve its desired outcomes in international affairs and to maintain domestic obedience in the foreseeable future.

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