Power is derived from the ability to influence through coercion or inducements to attain the desired outcome. A country is powerful if it can get what it wants by directly influencing others through force or incentives. In normal circumstances, a country is deemed powerful if it has a strong and powerful military and can project its military prowess to achieve its goal and control others. This is essentially hard power, and it involves the application of military intervention, coercive diplomacy, and economic sanctions. But, a country can deploy another form of power to achieve the same objective as hard power. Soft power is the non-coercive power of a nation. It is the ability to sway the preferences of others and make them act according to your wishes through attraction and influence. Hard power, unlike soft power, can be easily measured (e.g., the number of missiles and tanks, and troops). Hard power involves using resources, and its use can lead to the achievement of the intended outcome at a much faster rate. However, soft power doesn’t cost anything and simply gets its way softly and smoothly.

Soft power is based on attraction and emulation and can be associated with these three categories: cultural, ideological, and institutional. The rationale behind soft power projection is that most countries will willingly follow the country with an attractive set of culture, ideology, or institution. In other words, a nation’s culture, ideals, and values can attract partners and supporters. The country can project soft power with the help of its organizations such as companies, universities, civil and religious institutions, among others. In this way, such a country will coerce others and model their preferences and long-term attitudes.

China has the highest population and second-biggest economy in the whole world. China, therefore, is a very powerful international actor. China has also been modernizing its military to counter supposed threats from other actors. China generated massive interest in the past few decades because of its effectiveness in projecting soft power in many parts of the world. China is using its soft power to aggressively attract and influence other countries. The main goal for China is to expand its influence across the world through the promotion of cultural values and public diplomacy as well as being a champion of integration of the global economy.

How is China using soft power to exert influence? China intentionally propagates the notion of a thriving Chinese culture to counter the narrative propagated by the West about its rise as a threat to the existing international order. The government of China has in the last decade committed to promote and enhance its appeal abroad. To improve its image abroad, China has developed a robust international media. China has established foreign-language news outlets to spread and control the narrative desired by the Chinese government. The news outlets have grown in leaps and bounds over the years. The foreign language outlets allow China to reach out to a broader audience and bring out the underreported news about China. The government of China also uses foreign language outlets to broadcast high-profile summits between China and other countries.

China has deployed vast amounts of money to promote its traditions, values, language, and culture in order to bring more countries to its corner. It is estimated that China uses approximately $10 billion a year to steer its soft power campaign or “external propaganda,” which is incomparable to $666 million used by the U.S. on public diplomacy during the same period. Over the recent years, China has projected its soft power by joining the World Trade Organization and many other regional organizations, contributing to the United Nations (U.N.) peace-keeping operations. By joining hands with other countries in the U.N. to contribute troops to peace-keeping missions, China is passing a message of its desire to rise in peace. In fact, among all U.N. Security Council members, China provides the largest contingent of security personnel for peace-keeping missions. China has effectively used its permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council to achieve its desired goals. Indeed, it can out-maneuver the other members and push for its agenda. Likewise, China has continuously pushed for favorable conditions to its trade agenda by wielding its membership in the World Trade Organization.

China is showcasing to the world its development record, which has lifted many millions of people out of poverty. China is using the program known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a means of projecting its soft power and engaging with other countries. The BRI is an initiative for spurring regional connectivity through an integrated connectivity of roads, railway, oil and gas pipelines, harbors, and telecommunication networks. The objective of the BRI program is to enhance economic integration between China and Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. China has deployed a vast amount of resources to finance initiatives that will enable the success of the BRI. China has used its soft power to effectively pursue an aggressive trade policy and low-interest loan scheme in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Through this plan, China can apply diplomatic pressure to coerce and induce developing countries to bid for its broad objective. The Chinese use these countries, which benefit from their generosity, to circumvent international agreements or any obstacle that may hinder them from achieving their desired outcome. Another instance where China wielded its soft power was when it convinced the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to make the Chinese currency, alongside the dollar as reserve currencies. It was also able to convince the world to set up its multinational development bank.

China has also used language, educational exchanges, media expansion, and culture as tools of soft power. China has opened several Confucius institutes worldwide to teach the Chinese language, cooking, and calligraphy and promote Chinese national holidays. It has progressively set up cultural centers around the globe. Various studies show over five hundred Confucius institutions are spread out across the globe as of 2018. China has also used Educational exchanges as a means of propagating soft power around the world. China has, for the last few decades, become one of the top destinations for international students. Some estimates show that in 2016, more than 400,000 foreign students from over 200 different countries were enrolled in Chinese institutions of learning.

China’s soft power strategy also revolves around its digital power (tech-driven strength). The strength lies in its abundance of computing power and capital. Because of its vast population, China generates more data than all other countries combined. The country has more internet users than any other country in the world. The Chinese government and enterprises have made technology a priority and leverage it to attract other countries.


China is also projecting its soft power using many other cultural and social avenues such as film, literature, artistic work, musical work, and sports engagements. China has used sports to project its soft power. For instance, in Beijing, the 2008 Olympic Games put China on one of the most prominent displays globally, where the country could showcase its prowess in sports. China also courted the Hollywood Film Industry in the U.S. to disseminate its culture to the rest of the world. Chinese films are watched all over the world. In some countries, films are drawing more crowds to the cinema halls more than American cinema.

The great advantage of using soft power is that it does not cost anything, unlike hard power, which requires many resources. The country does not need to make concessions; it simply gets its way in a very gentle manner. However, soft power is at many times difficult to measure. Soft power, at times, does not yield the desired outcomes For example, the Chinese financing of the BRI projects does not necessarily translate to China’s capacity to wield influence over the countries which receive it aid. Some local communities in Southeast Asia and, parts of African have shown open resentment towards the growing presence of China in their countries. Some countries fear that the Chinese projects will interfere with their national interests and remain guarded about bending to China’s preferences.

There is a feeling that the billions of dollars China used in its charm offensive have not yielded the desired outcome. Several polls conducted in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and India found a predominantly negative opinion about China’s influence in these countries. In fact, the soft power campaign carried out by China could be derailed by the mismatch between what the country is portraying as its desired image and the actual activities taking place on the ground. China’s soft power is particularly being curtailed by the increasing number of territorial disputes, authoritarianism, rising nationalism, a crackdown on civil society, censorship of domestic and international media, political oppression, among others. Also, Chinese practices like importing labor for infrastructure projects are very unpopular in developing countries with high unemployment levels. If China does not address these issues, they will certainly hinder the notion that the country is a haven of attractive values and merits. There were anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam because an oil rig was put up in waters claimed by both countries. The continued muzzling of advocates and supposed enemies makes it very hard for China to win friends and portray a positive image.