Where do the roots of China’s Soft Power in International Politics rely on?

According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affair, China “unswervingly pursues an independent foreign policy of peace. The fundamental goals of this policy are to preserve China’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, create a favourable international environment for China’s reform and opening up and modernization of construction, and to maintain world peace and propel common development[1].” […]

According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affair, China “unswervingly pursues an independent foreign policy of peace. The fundamental goals of this policy are to preserve China’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, create a favourable international environment for China’s reform and opening up and modernization of construction, and to maintain world peace and propel common development[1].” This sentence illustrates the rhetoric of China’s Politics promoting their approach on World’s relations relying on its own development. “ This article seeks to put it into perspective with the Chinese Soft Power in the International Relations. In fact, I am going to argue that’s China managed to develop its own model of World political development, based on the roots of its “unique road”, that gives China good prospects for the Future.

For that purpose, I am first going to deal with the historical root of its development, which furnished China the framework of its current political development. I will try to how the inner political and economic framework fostered its influence at a global scale. Secondly, I will show the Chinese approach in IR, which has been willing to reshape the World’s relations in a Western-dominated system by promoting its specificities. The notion of Soft Power developed by J. Nye is at the very heart of this analyse. According to him, the spreading of a country’s Soft Power at the World stage implies “to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions. This soft power – getting others to want the outcomes that you want – co-opts people rather than coerces them[2]”. For China, it involves many aspects that I am going to develop by focusing mainly on the Foreign Policies implemented since the Presidency of Xi Jinping in 2012.

Its historical root of development furnished China with the framework of its current political development. The inner political and economic framework has been indeed fostering its influence at a global scale. China’s Foreign Politics has been shaped its early interactions with the First World’s Powers. During the mid-19th century which managed to impose China their trading rules after the Opium Wars, which indirectly led to the fell of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Along with these Wars, the Imperial China suffered also from the Sino-French War (1884-1885), which as a result led to the settling of the French Protectorates of Annam and Tonkin at its Southern border, and from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) which also illustrates the imperialistic actions of Foreign Powers in China’s Politics. Afterwards, early leaders of the Republic of China (1912-1949) sought to implement a Foreign Policy whose aim was to renegotiate the bad economic deals which affected China’s development to handle the troubles in its inner society. Then during the Mao’s Era, China won a seat in the CSUN which provided the right of veto which made China unavoidable on the International scene.  Nonetheless, China was arguably isolated on the international scene, as its development was mainly based on its exchanges with Communist countries, so that its economy didn’t grow so much during this period.

After the death of Mao and the advent of Deng Xiaoping, the reforms of the so-called “Four Modernizations” (1977) were implemented and gave China the economic framework enabling its development. What’s more, “Open-door” Policies haven been implemented, composed with the “release of freely mobilized resources and freely mobilized space[3]” involving for instance giving the right for the workers to work for other employees, along with the emergence of self-employed entrepreneurs and private enterprises. As the Western World were enthralled with the Neoliberalism, China followed this path by lots of market-oriented reforms which led to a rapid economic growth (for example with the privatization of State-owned Enterprises. In 1998, China became the 2nd World Economic Power, as it produced 11.5% of the World’s GDP[4]. China’s model of Socialist Market Economy, which is basically a mixture between authoritarist planned economy and capitalism, along with its numerous population, proved to be effective regarding the constant economic growth. Until now, China constantly saw its GDP growing. Therefore, on the period 2010-2010, China was responsible of 33% of the World Economic growth.[5] China’s integration in the Globalization is a success, notably regarding the specialization which led to the nickname of “World factory”. This notion of course implies that other global Powers are dependant to China’s and it gave China a huge political Power, as it could use it to influence its partners on the World’s scene. The scholar A. Walder wrote “the transition to markets may be rapid or gradual, but the contours of the path are well established[6]”; It highlights that China has developed in the late 20th Century an economically sustainable and strong development.

The arrival of Xi Jiping in 2012 marks the beginning of a “New Era” of China’s impact on the World. While promoting the “Chinese Dream” on the inner scene, I called into question the Washington Consensus in World’s Economy (implying inward foreign direct investment liberalization, deregulation etc.), developing a Beijing Consensus[7], based on a modern-day tributary system and the self determination of developing countries and economics bounds done without regards to the inner Affairs (the respect of the Human Rights, for example). This World views is very effective as it gave China an advantage compared with the Western conditions of investment. China’s leadership in this domain is noticeable notably in Africa, which is going to be the rising continent of the 21th century. Moreover, under his Presidency, China became the “World’s creditor”[8], and notably of the USA. It enables China to influence and impact the World’s policies with its banking role.

The Chinese approach in IR has been willing to reshape the World’s relations in a Western-dominated system by relying its specificities relying on its Soft Power. It seeks at having a big impact not only in the economic field but also along with the conception of Great Powers in International Affairs. China managed to develop a “Soft Power” based on its “own road of development”. “China [has been playing] a dual role: it has served as both the agent of globalization and as a counterweighing power to market forces[9]”. As I already mentioned, the links China develops with emerging countries seeks to strengthen its influence on World’s issues. China became the 1st trade partner of Africa, but also of Brazil, Chile and Peru. This is related with “strategic partnerships” China made to have more influence in the World. It has notably done them with Russia, the major World Power which is strategic for China’s prospects. Indeed, it launched different initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2001 (Military Alliance with Russia and Eurasian countries) and the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation in 2001 with Russia. China shows also its influence through the launching of the BRICS in 2009, aiming at balancing the monopolistic Western hegemony, by co-opting big emerging countries to promote multilateralism. That is a relevant and quite visionary policy, regarding to the recent isolationism which characterises Trump’s America. Now China became arguably the 1st World Power, which was its main goal since its inscription in the 12th five year-plan[10]. This Soft Power is the results of the vision Xi Jinping sought to implement through his World Policies. Yevgen Sautin argued that “Xi’s turn away from China’s traditional low-profile foreign policy towards a more assertive approach.[11]”. It showcases the pragmatic aspect of China’s strategy regarding its Future. The example of The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, a project aiming at strengthening bounds between China, Eurasia and Europe by promoting economic and transportation facilities cooperation, illustrates the fact that China development’s prospects will continue to be at the very heart of the IR of tomorrow.

To conclude, China will be in the Future still going to impact strongly the World. Its historical roots of development, as well as the economic and political contexts provided China the framework of the raise of its economic power. Its economic power led to its importance on the World’s issues, as China became arguably the 1st World Power. By its strategies, China managed to have a coherent vision which enabled it to be reliable for its economic partners. There is nonetheless a big lack in terms of Human Rights, but it could be a strength on the economic sphere. The possible limitations of its development – inner social crisis, ecologic catastrophe, economic crisis -are going to condition its development, as well as its others’ World countries whose role will be big in an interconnected globalized system.

by Simon Eslinger 

[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China”. Retrieved 19 February 2015, available on the website http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/

[2] J. NYE, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York, Public Affairs, 2004

[3] V. Nee and S. Opper, Capitalism from below: Markets and Institutional Change in China, 2012, Havard University Press

[4] “List of regions by past GDP (PPP), Wikipedia.org available online in French at fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_historique_des_r%C3%A9gions_et_pays_par_PIB

[5] « La Chine aura un rôle central dans l’économie mondiale en 2012 », Le Quotidien du Peuple en ligne, 2012, avalable online in French at http://french.people.com.cn/Economie/7690387.html

[6] Andrew Walder et al., 2015, After state socialism: the political origins of transitional recessions,

American Sociological Review, 80

[7] J.C. RAMO, “The Beijing Consensus”, The Foreign Policy centre, May 2004

[8] T. MOYSAN,«La Chine à nouveau premier créancier des Etats-Unis », Ouest-France, 16/08/2017

[9] B. GAO, “The Rubik’s Cube State: A Reconceptualization of Political Change in Contemporary China “, Work and Organizations in China after Thirty Years of Transition, Research in the Sociology of Work, Volume 19

[10] A. CARROT, « Le Soft Power chinois, un discours international à rebours du modèle occidental », Les yeux du Monde, 05/04/2018, available in French at http://les-yeux-du-monde.fr/actualite/concours/34565-soft-power-chinois-discours-international-a-rebours-modele-occidental

[11] “China’s “New Era” with Xi Jinping characteristics”, European Council of Foreign Relations

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