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Joseph Nye on Soft Power Competition with China | Nobel Peace Laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk
I caught up with the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the legendary IR scholar
Joseph Nye at the 2023 Aspen Security Forum (Dan Bayer/Aspen Security Forum)
The Aspen Security Forum last week was a target rich environment for collecting excellent interviews for the podcast. This is one of the more high profile international security conferences and it tends to attract some big names, both inside government and from academia, media and civil society. Fortunately for you and I, several attendees agreed to sit down for a Global Dispatches interview.
My guest today, Joseph Nye, hardly needs an introduction. He’s the legendary international relations scholar and former head of the Harvard Kennedy School who coined the term “Soft Power.” (If hard power is getting others to do what you want through coercion, soft power is the ability to get others to do what you want through attraction.)
I was most interested in having Joe describe the state-of-play of Soft Power competition between the USA and China. You should listen to our entire conversation, but I would flag his succinct summary of the sources of China’s soft power today — and its limitations.
Mark Leon Goldberg: What do you perceive to be the key sources of Chinese soft power today?
Joseph Nye:Well, China is attractive to others because of its economic performance. As the frequent phrase goes, it has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and that attracts others to China. China's also attractive because of its traditional culture. It is an ancient culture with many interesting and attractive features. And so this is what you get when you have Confucius Institutes that are established by Beijing and various universities around the world. Those are probably its two strong sources of soft power.
But on the other hand, it's got some weaknesses — and the weaknesses are two big weaknesses. One is there's a lot of territorial conflicts with its neighbors. It's very hard to attract, let's say, Indians with a Confucius Institute, New Delhi, if at the same time you're killing Indian soldiers on the Himalayan border. And China has probably a half a dozen neighbors with whom it has territorial disputes. So that limits China's soft power. The other thing that limits China's soft power is the tight insistence on detailed party control. The fact that that it limits freedom of speech, limits civil society. You get things like a great Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who is essentially thrown out or locked up. And that affects not just China's neighbors, but affects people in Europe, Japan, Australia and the US. So those are the two limits on Chinese soft power, which I think more than balances the two assets.
This is actually the second time Joseph Nye has joined me on the podcast. Back in 2014(!) he told me his life story, including his upbringing on a farm and the “a-ha!” moment that lead him to coin “Soft Power.” That episode is from an earlier iteration of Global Dispatches that is only available to paying subscribers. (Paying subscribers support our work, and get access to featured premium content and our entire robust archives!)
On Thursday, I speak with the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Ukrainian Human Rights Lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk. It’s a powerful conversation about her work documenting Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and what opportunities exist for justice and accountability. You are not going to want to miss that conversation.
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As always, feel free to reach out to me with your ideas, provocations, suggestions and praise.
Mark Leon Goldberg
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