Rise of a soft power

CHINA’s phenomenal rise has been the source of much debate, interest and apprehensions lately. While the Chinese exports flood the markets around the world pushing out long-entrenched and established players, pundits and foreign policy analysts have occupied themselves with the questions of how the emergence of a second superpower can alter global power equations.

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Published: Mon 12 Dec 2005, 10:23 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:36 PM

In China’s neighbourhood, traditional big players such as Japan have been extremely nervous about the consequences of the Communist giant’s growing clout and its emergence as a key player on the world stage. These concerns are not without basis considering Japan has a long history of troubled relations with China just as it has with other smaller nations in the region.

This is perhaps why China’s foreign minister Li Zhaoxing went out of his way at the East Asia summit being held in Kuala Lumpur to reassure the country’s neighbours. The Chinese leader has emphasised that China will never become a threat to anyone in the region or around the world and is not looking to settle old, historical scores with the neighbours. Enunciating China’s agenda for growth in the crucial years to come, Zhaoxing has assured the world community, especially the country’s neighbours, that Beijing will continue to stick to its current path of peaceful development and that it has no ambitious for global hegemony.

This is most welcome and is in harmony with China’s conduct so far. While the country has nuclear weapons in its armour and boasts of a large standing army, it has not pursued reckless and unbridled militarisation. Despite the recent concerns voiced by US defence secretary Rumsfeld, China is not spending as much on defence as would befit an aspiring big power or at least not as much as other big players in the region such as India are spending. Compared to the US, China’s defence budget allocation is remarkably low. Which is how it should be.

China’s approach to power is distinctly different from that of other big powers in the past or present. The Asian giant, rather than spend its hard earned foreign exchange reserves on pointless weapons, is seeking to build its power in economic terms. Clearly, the idea is to build the country’s soft power, rather than acquire military muscle to bully the world. This is how it should be for the world’s most populous country that is home to the multitudes still battling poverty and craving the basics of life. There are lessons in this for all countries, big and small. Fancy weapons and a mammoth military machine, built at the expense of a people’s basic needs, are not the way to a nation’s lasting power. A country’s power lies in the happiness of its people.

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