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Soft Power, a New Focus at 'Two Sessions'
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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 political events.


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 legislature.


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-Africa Cooperation.


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 image.


"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)

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