To develop China's "soft power", a term first invented by
Harvard professor Joseph Nye in 1990, has once again emerged as a
hot topic at this year's annual sessions of China's parliament and
top political advisory body.
Mr. Nye defined "soft power" as the ability to get what a nation
wants through attractions -- rather than coercion -- such as
culture, political values, and foreign policies. He regarded these
attractions as the true means to success in world politics.
Such an expression of soft power can be found in government
agendas and suggestions offered by legislators and political
advisors who are attending the country's two most important annual
According to the government work report delivered by Premier Wen
Jiabao, the central government is expected to put on its 2007
agenda promoting social progress, government reforms, world peace
and harmony apart from economic growth and military targets.
China abolished tuition fees for all the 150 million primary and
middle school students in rural areas starting from this year, Wen
told 2,890 lawmakers on March 5 at the opening meeting of the
annual full session of the National People's Congress (NPC), the
The country is also expected to cover its farmers in 80 percent
of counties, districts and cities in the rural cooperative medicare
system and build cleaner, more transparent and efficient government
this year, according to the report.
China's renewed efforts to boost its soft power are echoed by
the national legislators and political advisors.
"The central budget for culture undertakings in 2006 surged 23.9
percent year-on-year to 12.3 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion). Things
like this for the buildup of soft power are very impressive," said
Chen Zui, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese
People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
"We should never underestimate the importance of building soft
power as economic miracle is only one side of China's rising in the
world arena," said NPC deputy Peng Fuchun, a philosophy professor
at Wuhan University in central Hubei Province.
In light of this, China is striving to achieve the other side,
namely exerting more international influence through diplomacy and
national image lifting.
According to the draft 2007 budget, the central government plans
to raise diplomatic spending by 37.3 percent to 23 billion yuan
(US$3 billion) this year. It said the money will be used mainly to
fund overseas aids programs, peace-keeping operations, and
increased membership fees at international organizations.
Last year China hosted meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, the summit commemorating the 15th anniversary of the
dialogue partnership between China and the Association of the
Southeast Asian Nations, and the Beijing summit of the Forum on
China was widely believed to have used the three major events to
foster its soft power by strengthening cooperation, publicizing the
concept of "building a harmonious world" and allaying fears over
its rising from other countries.
On the sidelines of the two sessions, many lawmakers and
political advisors have been calling for more efforts to stamp out
bad behaviors and manners ahead of the 2008 Olympics Games.
NPC deputy Xu Zhihong said government officials should wipe off
reception menus wildlife such as shark fin and snakes before the
Games to help impress foreign visitors with a favorable national
"Serving these wildlife during the Olympics will easily irritate
foreign animal rights activists and environmentalists and thus
greatly hurt China's national image," said Xu, president of the
prestigious Beijing University.
Lawmakers and advisors also urged to stamp out the "new four
pests" including spitting, smoking, queue-jumping, and swearing at
sports venues in the run-up to the Olympics.
"Many of us don't take seriously about bans on them. But it
often is the small things that really hurt China's national image,"
said Zhao Qizheng, a member of the CPPCC's National Committee and
former director of the Information Office of the State Council.
Zhao, along with many other lawmakers and advisors, admit that
China has a long way to go before attaining a soft power that is as
influential as its economic strength.
(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2007)