Clear vision on soft power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 3:19am

Most people in other countries expect China to overtake the US as the world's leading superpower, according to a respected global survey. But this finding does not reflect less positive sentiment about China's respect for its people's personal freedom and the spread of Chinese ideas and customs. This comparison is marked in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where China has worked to strengthen its economic presence over the past decade. China has won respect as an economic partner and admiration for the country's scientific and technological progress, but this does not translate into people's attitudes to the spread of its culture.

These are among the major findings of the Pew Research Centre's Global Attitudes Project, which conducted surveys among 37,653 respondents in 39 countries, including six in Africa and seven in Latin America, to gauge global public responses to China's rise. Majorities in 23 of 39 countries expect China to overhaul the US, but just half view China favourably and most people in 28 countries believe it does not respect personal freedom. By comparison most people in 37 countries think the US does respect its citizens' personal freedoms. Analysts were surprised at the influence of perceptions of personal freedom and concluded that this is an issue China must address to win positive acceptance of rising global power.

Project director Bruce Stokes attributes reservations about China to its rapid rise. The next generation of foreign opinion leaders may have fewer doubts. In 16 out of 38 nations, younger people are more likely to look favourably on Chinese culture. Nonetheless, the survey found that the appeal of American soft power in developing nations is greater today than five years ago. If China is to wield soft power commensurate with its economic and military might, its foreign policy and political and cultural diplomacy need to project a clear vision of national interests, and of a peaceful rise that makes the world a better and safer place.