Soft power enables countries to persuade or attract others to support their interests. A country’s soft power is heavily dependent upon its global image and international prestige. In the case of China, the central government has developed top-down strategies for enhancing China’s soft power, which in conjunction with public diplomacy, are designed to cultivate a positive international image of China.

China has more of a strategy that reflects public diplomacy than soft power, per se. China has a three part strategy. The first is to develop the content of Chinese soft power then there is more traditional ideas of culture: art, music, literature, Chinese traditional medicine , Confucianism. The third part of the strategy is developing the vehicle or the mechanisms by which China can project this soft power. 

Soft power provides a magnet for a country that attracts others to it , others want to emulate the country, they respect the country, they value the country’s  political system. In other words others want to be like it . That’s soft power. It comes from society. It does not come from the government. 

Public diplomacy is one aspect of soft power. Soft power can be derived from a country’s policies, if the policies are seen as legitimate and attractive in the eyes of others. Soft power can also be derived from a country’s performance. China gets a lot of soft power from its astonishing record economically, raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. A lot of people admire that. That produces soft power.

For most countries, there is a pretty clear divide between soft power and public diplomacy. In China’s that’s different because the government is so concerned to both define and construct the political and the cultural narrative. 

Thus far China’s soft power, public diplomacy efforts have not been very successful and  they have not gotten much return on their investment. 

China’s soft power campaign is limited by the dissonance between the image that China aspires to project and the country’s actions. Rising nationalism, assertiveness vis-à-vis territorial disputes, crackdowns on nongovernmental organizations, censorship of domestic and international media, limits to the entry of foreign ideals, and political repression constrain China’s soft power. If China’s narratives don’t address the country’s shortcomings, it becomes very hard to sell the idea of China as a purveyor of attractive values, Chinese culture and ideas have the potential to appeal worldwide, but only when there is honesty in the depiction.


Ultimately, China’s tightening authoritarian political system is the biggest obstacle to the positive image the country and government yearn for. So long as [China’s]political system denies, rather than enables, free human development, its propaganda efforts will face an uphill battle. Without the free exchange of ideas and the ability of Chinese citizens to engage in open debate, the gap between the government’s portrayal and China’s reality will likely grow. China will find it hard to win friends and influence nations so long as it muzzles its best advocates.

According to The Soft Power 30, the overall score for China is 51.25

  1. Digital: China ranks 30
  2. Enterprise: China ranks 21
  3. Education: China ranks 17
  4. Culture: China ranks 8
  5. Engagement: China ranks 10
  6. Government: China ranks 29
  7. Polling: China ranks 29


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