[Academic] China Soft Power in SEA?

Berhubung nilai semester 2 kemaren sudah keluar semua (Alhamdulillah), maka paper dan tugas kuliah sudah bisa saya publish di sini. Anyway, maafkan saya yang akhir-akhir ini terlalu malas untuk menulis dan meng-update blog, dan memilih jalur singkat dengan cara upload tugas XD. Selamat membaca, terutama yang tertarik dengan studi China.

Reading Note: China Soft Power in South East Asia


This reading note is based on the article written by H.H. Michael Hsiao and Alan Yang, titled Soft Power Politics in the Asia Pacific: Chinese and Japanese Quests for Regional Leadership. It was explained about two countries on struggling for leadership in SEA. Located in strategic position, South East Asia (SEA) region and ASEAN as regional organization become significant for strong economic power such as China, Japan and South Korea. Not only its geopolitical situation, SEA has abundance of natural resources that being needed for industrial countries, as well as its market potential.

Since the 1990s, China has strengthened its relations with ASEAN states in fields of foreign aid, trade, finance, infrastructure, business, labor, environment, and development as well as tourism (Hsiao & Yang, 2009). Not only hard power, another approach to spread the influence of a country is by soft power. The essence of Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power is an ability to attract others; such an attraction serves to persuade others to accept one’s purposes without explicit threat or violent exchange. The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority) (Nye, 2013).

China’s soft power in SEA, especially in grass-root level, in my opinion is perhaps not yet as successful as Japan and South Korea’s Halyu. Japan soft power diplomacy has been exist for decade, while China relatively new on emphasizing their soft power. From the 2008 opinion poll on Japan’s image in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, it results that Japan is a trustworthy friend for ASEAN countries; friendly to their country; and respondents had positive images of Japan’s economic and technical contribution to their country. These results demonstrate a warming attitude of ASEAN people to Japan and corroborate the efficacy of Tokyo’s soft power diplomacy (in Hsiao & Yang, 2009).

What made China is not successful enough for its soft power in SEA? I argue that beside of different starting time, another factor that might be very important for China to be more influential is its domestic political situation. Chin (2013) mentioned that the lack of serious political reform in China caused its soft power has not directly translated into more supportive views of its quest for status and legitimacy. With respect to the latter, it will be increasingly difficult for the government to prevent its domestic record on political and civil freedoms from affecting China’s international credibility.

In article titled “What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power?”, Nye argued that for a rising power like China whose growing economic and military might frightens its neighbors into counter-balancing coalitions, a smart strategy includes soft power to make China look less frightening and the balancing coalitions less effective. China makes the mistake of thinking that government is the main instrument of soft power. In today’s world, information is not scarce but attention is, and attention depends on credibility. Nye’s view on soft power springs is largely from individuals, the private sector, and civil society. So that for China to succeed, it will need to match words and deeds in their policies, be self-critical, and unleash the full talents of their civil societies.

China might be powerful economically, but it seems that from soft-power influence, it will be a long way for China to “conquer” SEA social and culturally.


Author: Sunu Family

We are an Indonesian family living in Bonn, Germany since 2017. Our family consists of Ayah (Radit), Umi (Retno/ Chiku), Kakak (Zahra), and Adek (Faiq). We will share our experience living in Germany, our trips, thoughts, Umi's related research on her study, etc.

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