A Brief Look at China’s Soft Power against the United States


In the field of world politics, power is one of the most important and main concepts. [1] Indeed it is usually defined as the ability of a particular actor to control or influence others. [2]

Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” in the 1980s. Soft power lies in the ability to influence and persuade other players. Whereas hard power—the ability to coerce—grows out of a country’s military or economic might, soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, and political ideals. [3] In the other words, soft power refers to the influence of a country outside its borders by using persuasion and attraction, not threats and military force.

China and Soft Power

In this regard, China is increasingly increasing its influence in the world, especially in the United States, increasing support for cultural exchanges with countries around the world, sending doctors and teachers to work abroad, welcoming students from other countries to study in China, and spending considerable money on teaching Chinese.

From this perspective, experts believe that China is trying to convince the world of its peaceful intentions, ensure its access to the resources needed for continued economic growth, and ultimately isolate Taiwan.

In the same vein, there is a belief that China, in opposition to the West and the United States, is seeking leadership on the world stage. With this explanation, this commentary tries to examine China’s soft war against the West, and specifically the United States.

China’s economic development has been accompanied by the expansion of its cultural and diplomatic influence in the world, especially in the developing countries. Such growth in soft power has been reflected in Southeast Asia for many years, but is also evident in Beijing’s economic cooperation in Latin America and in trade and development projects in Africa.

In this regard, experts and political analysts see the expansion of China’s influence in opposition to the United States and its policies, and say that China is trying to increase its influence in the areas claimed by the United States in the direction of a soft war.

However, the United States, in addition to its extensive cooperation with China in various fields, sees the country as a rival for the future and is trying to reasonably prevent its growing influence in global developments.

China’s Approach to Soft War Strategy

From the 1950s to the late 1990s, China’s foreign policy focused on encouraging and supporting the revolution in other parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. [4]

However, after Deng Xiaoping came to power, China changed its course and focused on economic reform and modernization, while at the same time having a small involvement in world affairs. [5]

Then, in the late 1990s and the end of the Cold War, China shifted its focus again, focusing on soft power by adopting a strategy based on soft war against the West. One of the reasons was the significant economic development in this country, which gave a lot of trust and credibility to the leadership and the Chinese people and their place in the world.

At the same time, Chinese experts suggested that US soft power had declined dramatically since the end of the Cold War, and that China could compete effectively with the United States on this front. Therefore, China adopted a soft war strategy to achieve its goals.

Chinese Perception, Goals and Tolls in Soft Power

In addition to numerous discussions on China’s foreign and domestic policy, two main views have been raised on its soft power toward the United States. The first current, led by Chinese sociologists and philosophers, believes that the core of soft power is culture. Another view of the minority group, expressed by some international relations experts, does not ignore the importance of culture, but focuses on how to use the sources of soft power and concludes that political power is at the center of power. However, the culture-oriented perspective has had the greatest impact on China’s policies, and Chinese leaders have acknowledged the central role of culture in the exercise of soft power. [6]

China is pursuing the following goals in its soft war:

  1. Creating a calm international environment in which it can continue its economic development;
  2. Another goal of China is to persuade other countries to accept its position as a great power;
  3. China’s other goal in its soft war is to create a circle of like-minded allies; and
  4. Finally, China intends to use its power to isolate Taiwan.

China is trying to use its soft power in various parts of the world to increase its influence and reduce US influence in the context of a soft war with the United States. Thus, China’s soft measures include Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and even the Middle East.

In this regard, the Chinese government uses a number of tools to implement its soft war strategy, which can be divided into the following three categories:

  1. Political tools: Diplomacy;
  2. Cultural tools: Chinese culture, arts, language, and ethnicity; and
  3. Economic instruments: Aid, trade, investment, and attraction of China’s economic model.


Given the issues raised above, China is trying to use its soft power in various parts of the world to increase its influence and reduce US influence in order to wage a soft war with the United States. Finally, although China has made good use of its tools in soft warfare with the United States so far, the United States also has the right leverage against it, and perhaps the United States is looking for a strong and controlled enemy to maintain internal cohesion. In this way, China, with its important indicators of a great power and at the same time hostile to Western democracy, can play such a role for the United States.

1-- Nye, Joseph S., Jr. (2005). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Public Affairs Books.
2-- Goldstein, J. S. & Pevehouse, J. C. (2006). International relations (7th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.
3-- Griffiths, M. & O’Callaghan, T. (2002). International Relations: The key Concepts. London: Routledge.
4-- Kurlantzick, Joshua (2007). Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
5-- Harris, S. (2005). “China’s Regional Policies: How Much Hegemony?”. Australian Journal of International Affairs.
6-- Glaser, Bonnie and Murphy, Melissa (2009). “Soft Power with Chinese Characteristic,” in “Chinese Soft Power and Its Implications for the United States”. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).


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