New Emissary

21st Century Asian Soft Power

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New Emissary

21st Century Asian Soft Power

Egypt has shown the potential importance of soft power. Asia doesn’t want to be left behind.

Egypt has revolutionized revolutions. As Harvard University Prof. Joseph Nye wrote in the Huffington Post recently:  

‘Conventional wisdom has always held that the state with the largest military prevails, but in an information age it may be the state (or non-states) with the best story that wins. Soft power becomes a more important part of the mix.’

Certainly, with ever-increasing access to the Internet and other technologies, information is travelling faster and further than ever before—particularly among members of the general public. There’s no doubt that, as Nye suggests, governments and states will therefore have to start creating new strategies that combine hard and soft power.

Asian states continue to embrace various soft power initiatives. Just yesterday in Vietnam, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved the country’s strategy for cultural diplomacy through 2020, which will focus on promoting Vietnam’s country, people, and culture to the rest of the world.

In Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou has also spoken out, saying that for his country, tourism is the key to effectively exercising soft power. If this is the case, then according to Radio Taiwan International the island could be on to a good thing—last year the island broke its previous record, with 5.56 million visitors.

Meanwhile, according to one recent opinion piece in the Jakarta Post, Indonesia, ‘currently lacking in soft power in terms of having a positive presence in other countries,’ has something to learn from China’s ‘soft power charms.’ Here, it’s suggested that China’s success with its Confucius Institutes is one of the best endeavours Indonesia might learn from.

China’s Confucius Institutes are indeed the result of a fascinating modern soft power initiative that has made a significant impression around the world in just under seven years. Combining a certain practicality with culture and the arts, China has found a formula that has allowed it to expand the reach of the institutes quickly and beyond expectations. At present, with 322 Confucius Institutes and 369 Confucius Classrooms in 96 countries—and serving almost 400,000 learners—the Confucius Institutes of China are a real topic of interest in a wide range of circles, academic as well as political.

So starting next week, I’ll be exploring Confucius Institutes in more depth in a new series that will touch on topics such as their operation, global appeal and impact, and also the question of whether they could be viewed merely as Chinese propaganda. Are they really tied to Confucianism?