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[Park Sang-seek] War between American and Chinese soft power

July 25, 2011 - 18:57 By 최남현
Chinese President Hu Jintao presented China’s foreign policy doctrines and strategies at the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China on July 1. Actually, it was a summary of the section dealing with Chinese foreign policy in his speech at the 17th Party Congress in 2007. Hu has elaborated on Chinese foreign policy on many other occasions. The key word for Chinese foreign policy is “a harmonious world.”

American President Barack Obama has presented his vision of American foreign policy through his inaugural address, state of the union messages, and his speeches in various foreign capitals. The key word of American foreign policy is “a peaceful world.”

At the first glance, their foreign policy doctrines are identical, but they are quite different when their respective doctrines and strategies packaged under those labels are examined.

First, China sees the transition from U.S. hegemony to a multipolar system and opposes hegemonism in any form, but the U.S. still intends to lead the world to solve global issues and promote universal values, not to dominate other nations.

Second, China recognizes that two driving forces of history in the contemporary world are democratization and globalization and intends to deal with them separately. As far as democracy is concerned, it refuses to recognize Western democracy as the only form of democracy and advocates socialist democracy.

On the other hand, China, taking advantage of the globalization trend, supports free trade and free markets internationally but maintains the state-controlled economy domestically under the slogan of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

In accordance with this dualistic approach, China advocates the introduction of democracy in international organizations, while opposing the democratization of its own political system. It also participates in the international financial institutions but tries to strengthen its influence in them, while maintaining the state-controlled financial system domestically.

In contrast, the U.S. recognizes Western democracy as the only true form of democracy and tries to spread it worldwide by setting examples or by force. Regarding the international economic and financial orders, the U.S. considers them the best mechanisms for the economic development of all countries regardless of their economic systems or stages of economic development.

Thus, China supports the liberal international economic and financial orders because they serve well its economic development strategy. The U.S., on the other hand, values them because they are the necessary instruments for promoting world capitalism and can be controlled by itself in cooperation with other Western capitalist countries.

Third, both China and the U.S. believe in and advocate universal values, but they do not include the identical values in the concept of universal values, or interpret these values differently even if they do.

For the U.S., freedom of speech, freedom of association, the rule of law, equality before the law, transparent government, freedom of religion and the right to live in one’s own way are universal values. It should be noted that these values are mainly civil and political rights.

In contrast, China emphasizes collective rather than individual freedoms and puts priority on economic, social and cultural freedom than political and civil rights. It also considers peace and development as inseparable universal values, whereas the U.S. puts peace before development because it believes that without peace, no development is possible.

The six universal values enumerated in the U.N. Millennium Declaration ― freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility ― are a compromise between the Western and non-Western views of universal values.

Fourth, both the U.S. and China declare that they observe international law and norms and uphold the U.N. principles and purposes, including national sovereignty, non-intervention, equality of all nations, individual and collective self-defense, and collective security. But their interpretations are not always the same. For instance, the U.S. supports individual sovereignty, preemptive self-defense, and humanitarian intervention, but China sticks to the traditional interpretations of these principles.

The U.S. and China propagate their doctrines at home and abroad as their respective soft power. They both know that soft power is becoming more and more important, although the importance of hard power has not diminished. Hard power is too costly economically and humanly, sometimes self-inflicting and globally unpopular but is needed as a supplement and the last resort.

Therefore, they never cease arms build-up.

In the present era, China’s soft power is attractive to the developing countries, and America’s soft power to the Western developed countries. Russia and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States are mostly in favor of China’s soft power. China’s position on the international political, economic and cultural orders is very close to that of the Group of 77. It supports the New Global Human Order proclaimed by the group.

It is likely that just as the Washington consensus is challenged by the Beijing consensus, so will the liberal international order be challenged by an international order with Chinese characteristics, as the international political order is transformed into a multipolar system.

The key question now is not whether the unipolar world will change into a multipolar world but what kind of multipolar world the world will become. It seems that at present China pursues a Chinese Monroe Doctrine.

Then-President James Monroe declared in 1823 that the U.S. would not tolerate the colonization of the Western Hemisphere or any European power’s imposition of its political system on it, and the U.S. in turn had no intension of interfering in wars in Europe.

Likewise, China warns the U.S. that it will not tolerate the encroachment of Chinese interests in East China Sea and South China Sea and any attempt to transform the Chinese political system by the U.S. China fears that the U.S. tries to encircle China with its own military presence and allies in East Asia and claims that for this containment policy the U.S. supplies advanced weapons to Taiwan and supports ASEAN countries in the disputes over the islands in South China Sea.

The most important question for the whole world is, however, whether China seeks to replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower to establish its own international political and economic orders. Scholars, pundits and political leaders all over the world have been debating this question and have not reached any consensus. It is not surprising because it is extremely difficult to make a prediction on a nation’s behavior in international relations.

But China will maintain its Monroe Doctrine at least until it becomes confident that it possesses a global power projection capabilities, can dominate the international economic and financial orders, and its soft power is universally attractive. China is not yet in possession of these three.

Now, we know why China makes all-out efforts to make its soft power more attractive to the world. We also know why it has changed the label of its soft power from “hiding talent and waiting for the right time” to “peaceful rising” to “a harmonious world.” Who would object to this kind of slogan?

By Park Sang-seek 

Park Sang-seek is a professor at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University. ― Ed.