Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Soft Power Contestation between India and China in South Asia

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Soft Power Contestation between India and China in South Asia

Article excerpt

Power is a chief component of the grand strategy theories, albeit traditionally with greater focus on the hard dimensions of power. However, of late, soft power has come forth as an indispensible constituent of the study and practice of power dimensions in International Relations. The era of 'hard power' has been characterised as one of 'power projection' and the era of soft power as 'partnership'.1 The domestic political values, institutions, and political system are important considerations for the projection of a state's soft power; because these constituents of a state's performative ethos demonstrate how the ruling elite in that state uses power on its own people, which in turn is often assessed by the other states in a larger international context.

The media and the public are considered the two main prongs of soft power.2 Soft power today is exercised in the spheres of ideas, values, norms, and discourses and it engages both state and non-state actors. This is also known as the noosphere, whereby politics cedes its sole power-maximising motives to accommodate power-sharing ideals, and national interests stand re-defined by taking into account the interests and preferences of the wider society.3

In this context, this paper examines South Asia as a soft power arena between China and India. It will explore China's soft power forays in South Asia and India's response to these overtures, especially in the context of how it perceives China's increasing overreach in its neighbourhood and whether India has a long term advantage in trumping China's South Asian soft power inroads.

Soft Power: Context of China and India

Soft power explains the need for alternative power for states. To that extent, the fundamental understanding of soft power remains same for most powers of the world. However, some distinctions can be drawn in the understanding and utility of soft power in the context of rising powers like China and India. Unlike the United States whose main purpose of using soft power is to legitimise its hard power projections abroad; China and India are both looking to carve out a positive global image for themselves along with their influence.

Both India and China are endowed with vast soft power capital. In case of China, its traditional culture is seen as its most valuable source of soft power. Confucianism, Taoism, and other classical schools of thought, are also seen as sources of China's soft power. The Chinese developmental assistance is yet another source of the nation's soft power. 4 Other Chinese soft power projections can be inferred from its approach to confidence-building measures (CBMs), resolving existing border disputes and reassuring neighbours about its benign intentions, its enhanced economic engagement, and its cultural outreach.5 Chinese writings on soft power make frequent references to the '.. .Great Wall, Peking Opera, pandas, martial arts, sports icon Yao Ming and movie star Zhang Ziyi'.6 China has increased its public diplomacy budget, indulged in offering humanitarian aid, has been providing educational services particularly through exchange programmes to foreign students, and has offered development assistance to several countries. Beijing has tied assistance to its policy goals, '.including promoting its companies, cultivating political actors, and mitigating concerns about China's economic rise'.7 China has also been promoting soft power by establishing Confucius Institutes in different parts of the world to impart its language and culture to the world.

In the case of India, its soft power potential consists of its pluralistic polity, vibrant democracy, along with the traditions of Gandhi and enviable history of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).8 Yoga, Indian cuisine, cricket, IT firms and its Diaspora are yet other powerful Indian soft power tools.9 In addition, India's involvement in multilateral diplomacy, its role as one of the founders of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947, and in setting up the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) weigh favourably for India's image. …

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