China's Soft Power; Dwight H. Perkins Reviews Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World

By Perkins, Dwight H. | Harvard International Review, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

China's Soft Power; Dwight H. Perkins Reviews Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World

Perkins, Dwight H., Harvard International Review

Much is made today of China's booming economy. US defense secretaries point to China's rising military power and question why China feels the need to build its military might so rapidly. US diplomats work with Chinese diplomats in an effort to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis. These measures are covered extensively in the world press. In contrast, China's global involvement in a number of other areas tends to receive comparatively little attention from either the press or from US and European political leaders and scholars.


Joshua Kurlantzick, who has reported from Asia for journals such as US News and World Report and The Economist, focuses his book, Charm Offensive, on a broad array of China's activities beyond its borders. The book emphasizes what Kurlantznick calls China's "soft power," but he uses the term differently from how Joseph Nye, the originator of the term, defines it. Nye uses the term to refer to the influence that nations exert beyond their borders through everything from their music and cinema to their role as models of freedom and democratic governance. On the other hand, economic and military power represent "hard power."

By contrast, Kurlantzick includes China's trade and overseas investment in his definition of soft power. Furthermore, while much of the United States' soft power comes from the activities of private individuals and media portrayals of the nature of US society, this book is focused on Chinese government activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As Kurlantzick points out, the United States has squandered much of its soft power through its misguided policies in the Middle East and its penchant for unilateralism, while Chinese influence has steadily grown.

But for what purpose is China using its charm offensive? The days when China's interests beyond its borders focused on revolutionary movements against established governments are long gone. Nor in any immediate sense is China threatened by possible military attack from a superpower, as it was in the 1970s from the USSR or in the 1960s from US military involvement in Vietnam. China's response to those perceived threats was not to expand its diplomatic efforts and win friends around the world. Instead, China built a "people's militia" designed to fight a guerilla war on an unprecedented scale, and it invested vast sums to move industry into its mountainous interior where it might resist potential air attacks.

China's current charm offensive focuses on winning friends abroad to achieve several concrete objectives. Its top objective, after securing its territory from external attack, is to isolate Taiwan and eventually achieve the island's political reintegration with the Chinese mainland. China relies on a variety of economic and diplomatic efforts to isolate Taiwan. In Africa and Latin America, China holds out the prospects of investment, foreign aid, and its large domestic market. Taiwan also offers foreign aid and technical assistance to those who maintain diplomatic ties with it, but it has nothing comparable to the lure of the booming Chinese mainland market.

Beyond Taiwan, China's overseas objectives involve a major economic and diplomatic effort to secure natural resources like oil and copper for its booming economy. This involves everything from securing long-term contracts with resource suppliers to directly investing in and owning these suppliers. The diplomatic component, among other actions, involves befriending resource-rich nations that the United States and others see as pariahs. With its policy of "non-interference" in the domestic affairs of other nations, China counters efforts by the United States and others to isolate countries such as Sudan, Iran, and Zimbabwe. China also cultivates friendships with nations such as Venezuela that currently have unfriendly relations with the United States, but in doing so, it is careful not to appear to divert oil supplies from the US market.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

China's Soft Power; Dwight H. Perkins Reviews Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?