Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World

  This is a worksheet assignment which answers two questions. The first question entailed writing a 400 word essay identifying the author’s thesis and how he defends it. The second question consisted of a shorter essay which addressed the topic of whether or not the author’s book is already dated.  

Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World

Joshua Kurlantzick

Book Worksheet

Write one 400 word essay in which you identify the author’s thesis and how he defends it.

Joshua’s Kurlantzick makes the argument  in Charm Offensive  that China’s growing global influence is a direct result of increasingly sophisticated diplomacy and soft power tactics aimed at transforming international relations.  Kurlantzick explains that “soft power” a term first coined by Harvard academic Joseph Nye, is the power “which rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others….It is leading by example and attracting others to do what you want.”[1] Kurlantzick believes that this attractiveness that he also refers to as a nation’s “brand”[2] is the most “potent weapon in Beijing’s foreign policy arsenal.”[3] The rise in China’s soft power tactics and sophisticated diplomacy began coincidently with the sharp decline of America’s own soft power beginning in the 1990’s and which became further eroded by the United States human rights abuses which occurred  at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons. Kurlantzick further argues that, during this same timeframe, China’s leadership came to the realization that its unsuccessful hard power tactics involving military might aimed at intimidating other nations to bend to China’s will needed to change diplomatic course. It was at this juncture that the Chinese first created what they  termed “Peaceful Rise”[4], which, instead of depending on hard power tactics, would now promote China as a “benign, peaceful, and constructive actor in the world.”[5] China, according to Kurlantzick, now charted a new course based on peace, which ultimately fostered China’s growing prosperity. China’s new policy would use aid, trade, and investment to charm other nations, along with becoming an active participant in global and regional forums in its drive toward exercising international influence.

In Charm Offensive Kurlantzick provides an array of compelling evidence to support his thesis of China’s growing international influence resulting from soft power tactics. Kurlantzick argues that China has through numerous foreign aid programs been able to link “assistance to discrete policy goals…increasing China’s influence in places where other major powers…seem to be losing influence.”[6] Kurlantzick also backs up his claims by citing studies such as a 2005 BBC poll of twenty two nations which “found that 48 percent of people found China’s role in the world was mainly positive”[7] signaling a marked improvement over previous perceptions. Furthermore  Kurlantzick argues that China’s “model of state directed growth and poverty reduction holds [international]appeal as well,”[8] as noted by the approval of numerous nations he cites.

Finally Kurlantzick concludes his examination with a warning for the US. In this premonition Kurlantzick warns that if America does not make a concerted effort at regaining its appeal in the world, it will be faced with a more powerful China, and as a consequence America’s global interests could be significantly impacted.  

Finally, discuss in a shorter essay whether or not you feel the book is already dated.  Even though the book was published a couple of years ago, do you agree that there have already been changes in terms of how either China or the United States are perceived abroad?

Even though Charm Offensive was published recently, it can already be considered dated for two major reasons. The first reason concerns Kurlantzick’s recipe for change in his closing passages of Charm Offensive, under the chapter heading of “Responding to the Charm Offensive” in which Kurlantzick argues that America needs to make a determined effort at regaining its appeal in the world. Since the printing of Charm Offensive, America has made tremendous strides at regaining its world appeal as demonstrated with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States (US) in 2008. This act went a long ways toward demonstrating to the world that America is living up to its core values, and although President Obama is clearly not as loved as he once was in 2008, his election as President stopped the downward spiral of the US in the eyes of other nations.

The second point which makes the book appear outdated concerns Sino-African relations and how they are presented within the continent of Africa, contrasting with present day perceptions. Since the printing of the book the Chinese image within Africa has soured considerably, with today’s image of China being little different than that of previous European imperialists. This less than flattering image of Sino-African relations has even prompted the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to embark on its own media campaign aimed at trying to dispel these negative images as this article from the People’s Daily Online (a propaganda arm of the PRC) demonstrates. In the article which discusses SinoAfrica relations, the article’s writer goes to great length to try and dismiss the perceived fabrications that China feels it is falsely accused of by the western media.

“In recent years, China has established solid and friendly cooperative relations with Africa, drawing extensive attention from the international community, which is very common. However, some western media groups take every chance to poke at China’s African policy and even “demonize” China. No convincing content can be found in their reports, for what these media groups excel at is publishing groundless news, criticizing the imaginary “resource exploitation” and “neo-colonialism,” and irresponsibly citing the “China Threat Theory.”[9]

As this rebuttal article demonstrates, China’s image in regards to its relations with the nations of the African continent has clearly changed since the printing of Charmed Offensive.    

[1] Joshua Kurlantzick. Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 5

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Kurlantzick. Charm Offensive, 38

[5] Ibid, 39

[6] Ibid, 101

[7] Ibid, 112

[8] Ibid, 134

[9] Shu Yunguo. “China-Africa Relations Based on Equality, Mutual Benefit and Common Development.” February 26, 2010. (accessed 05/06/2010).

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