Tycoon Wang Jianlin lashes out at US 'soft power' scholar's comments at Davos
Joseph Nye's 'soft power' theory has been adopted by China's leadership but his advice on Beijing's dispute with Tokyo drew an angry response from Wang
Chinese property tycoon Wang Jianlin, invited to speak at a panel on US-China-Europe ties at the World Economic Forum at Davos on Thursday, said he was offended after co-speaker Joseph S Nye Jr made a "political" comment by bringing up the territorial dispute between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea, Chinese news portal ifeng.com reported on Friday.
Nye, a former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, is best known for his 'soft power' theory that was adopted by China's former president Hu Jintao and integrated into the Communist Party's official rhetoric, argued that the troubles in the region were an example of a failed attempt at balancing “hard” military power and “soft” economic and political power, according to a New York Times report.
The US had similarly "struck a poor balance" when it invaded Iraq in 2003, Nye pointed out.
Yet Wang, the multi-billionaire who once advised Harvard students to stay "close to the government and away from politics,” immediately protested against what he believed to be an attempt to "broach a political topic in an economics forum".
"I don't think it's polite of you to have publicly picked on China .. especially when a Chinese guest is present," said Wang. "If you have had a chance to hear from 1.3 billion Chinese people, you'll know they might not agree with you."
"Therefore I'd like to officially point out [my objection], " Wang said sternly.
Nye "apologised" and explained his comment was not "criticism" and was only meant as advice on how China could enhance its soft power, according to the Times report.
However, the report run by ifeng.com contradicted the Times and said the American political scientist "didn't offer an apology".
Instead ifeng.com quoted Nye as saying "I don't agree if you are arguing that politics and economics are unrelated," in his response.
On Weibo, many of outspoken microbloggers reacted by saying Wang had overreacted to what was in fact a friendly conversation.
"It's a shame that Wang had objected without an argument," one blogger wrote.
"Besides taking orders from leaders and accepting compliments from underlings, Wang apparently had no idea how to have a conversation with [his] peers," another wrote.
"Was he implying that the 1.3 billion Chinese people will only have one unified voice?," retorted another blogger.
Wang, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group, a private firm with interests ranging from property to retailing - was rated by Forbes as China's richest man in 2013.
Nye pioneered the theory of "soft power". He visited Peking University in 2012 where he gave a lecture on the subject.