Chinese authorities have seized on the Shanghai Expo 2010 - the
largest in history - as another chance to enhance 'soft power' that
is generated by the spread of cultures, values, diplomacy, and
trade. The expo opens this weekend.
At the heart of the Shanghai World Expo stands the host nation's
pavilion, a giant latticed crown painted crimson. Packed with
exhibits portraying daily Chinese life, China's ethnic diversity,
and the standard bearers of Chinese philosophy, the display shows
China's friendliest face to the world.
Hard on the heels of the Beijing Olympics, the authorities here
have seized on the Expo - the largest in history - as another chance
to improve the rising giant's international image. Learning how to
win friends and influence people is a task to which the government
has attached the highest priority in recent years.
It appears, however, to be failing. A BBC poll released in April
found that only one-third of respondents in 14 countries believe
China is a positive influence, down from one-half just five years
IN PICTURES: Shanghai World Expo 2010
"The government is putting a lot of resources and a lot of
attention into boosting China's 'soft power,' but they've got a lot
of problems with the message," says David Shambaugh, head of the
China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington.
"The core aspects of their system" - such as one-party rule, media
censorship, and suppression of critics - "are just not appealing to
Chinese policymakers and academics are increasingly fascinated by
"soft power," whereby nations coopt foreign governments and citizens
through the spread of their cultures, values, diplomacy, and trade,
rather than coerce them by military might.
Frustrated by Western domination of global media, from
entertainment to news, and by what it sees as unfair coverage, China
has launched a $6.6 billion campaign to tell its own story to the
world by building its own media empires.
Li Changchun, the ruling Communist Party's top ideology official,
was blunt in a 2008 speech: "Whichever nation's communications
capacity is the strongest, it is that nation whose culture and core
values spread far and wide ... that has the most power to influence
the world," he said.
Is the message convincing?
But this is not enough, says Li Xiguang, head of the
International Center for Communications Studies at Tsinghua
University in Beijing. Even the best-paid messengers need a
"The United States has built its soft power by making its value
and political system ... universal values," he says. "China will not
beat the US in soft power until we have a better and newer form of
democracy, freedom, and human rights."
China has had some success in projecting soft power in developing
countries, especially in Africa. "Wherever you go in Africa, roads
are being built, and the people building them are Chinese," says Aly
Khan Satchu, a financial analyst in Nairobi. …