When Joseph Nye, Jr., first used the phrase soft power in 1990 in his book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, China did not factor much into his calculus of world order: It had relatively little military and economic power, and none of the softer “persuasive” or “attractive” abilities that Nye saw as key features of the global domination of the United States.
Today, we live in a different world, and though China is achieving remarkable military might and economic dominance, Nye would argue that China has only made stumbling progress in becoming a more attractive brand to most other nations.
What are the continuing roadblocks to China’s progress in building soft power? How is Donald Trump affecting the balance of such power between the U.S. and China? Are both countries headed toward an inevitable great power conflict — also known as the Thucydides Trap — in which an established power’s fear of a rising power escalates toward war? And has the meaning of the term soft power changed in the last 25 years, between 1990 and 2015, when Nye published his most recent book, Is the American Century Over?
Jeremy and Kaiser spoke with Nye, a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was formerly the dean.
Jeremy: “Imagining Re-Engineered Muslims in Northwest China,” a largely visual article by Darren Byler on Chinese propaganda about Muslims in Xinjiang Province.
Joe: Is the American Century Over?, his most recent book, which contains a chapter that specifically compares the U.S. and China in soft power. Plus, an upcoming (planned for a mid-September 2017 release) Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War, which should be of interest to anyone interested in Asia, the U.S., or history in general.
Kaiser: The collection of Renaissance oil paintings at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University.
Charlene Barshefsky was a name you couldn’t avoid if you were in Beijing in the late 1990s. As the United States trade representative from 1997 to 2001, she led the American team that negotiated China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). On December 11, 2001, Ambassador Barshefsky’s efforts paid off, and, as a new member of the body that sets global rules for trade, China began the deep integration into the world economy that we take for granted today.
Kaiser and Jeremy recorded this interview with Ambassador Barshefsky at her offices at the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., where she is the chair of international trade. She recounted stories about the WTO negotiations, and about her relationship with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who was her Chinese counterpart in negotiations (see SupChina’s video on Zhu). We asked her how the hopes and expectations behind China’s WTO accession look in retrospect, and how she sees China’s role in global trade in the second decade of the 21st century. We think you’ll agree that her answers provide a fascinating glimpse into one of the most significant global economic deals in recent history.
Charlene: The classic tale of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.
Kaiser: Learning (or relearning) Spanish, especially via the YouTube channel Aprender Idiomas y Cultura General con Rodrigo.
China-watching isn’t what it used to be. Not too long ago, the field of international China studies was dominated by a few male Westerners with an encyclopedic knowledge of China, but with surprisingly little experience living in the country and speaking Chinese. Today, China-watching is different: The old “China hands” are still around and remain authoritative, but an increased number of younger travelers in a much more open China, people with specialized academic backgrounds and advanced language skills, and women — see last week’s Sinica Podcast on female China expertise — are changing the face of this field.
Bill Bishop is among the most recognizable China-watchers in the business. His long-running Sinocism newsletter is an essential resource for serious followers of China policy, and he is regularly quoted in a variety of major news outlets reporting on China.
Kaiser and Bill sat down at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on April 6 to record this podcast and discuss how China-watching has changed over the years. And in a reflection of Bill’s point that the media’s conventional wisdom on China is usually wrong, the summit between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago (occurring during the recording of this podcast) was exactly as Bill predicted: “Bland.”
Bill: In the Name of the People (人民的名义 rénmín de míngyì), the big-budget anti-corruption propaganda thriller. And The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, by Ian Johnson.
Kaiser: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a provocative and original book by Yuval Noah Harari.