December 8, 2023

Soft Power

Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (International Studies)


China’s hard-power advantage over india — economic power plus military power — is well known. There is less knowledge about its soft power advantage.

Soft power:

The term ‘soft power’ was coined in 1990 by professor joseph nye to explain how modern states can use positive attraction and persuasion to achieve global influence.

  • Persuasion and attraction: soft power is getting others to do what you want by persuasion. Soft-power theorists suggest that the ability to persuade rests on the power of attraction.
  • Soft power consists of foreign policy, cultural and political influence.
    • Foreign policy influence comes from the legitimacy and morality of one’s dealings with other countries.
    • Cultural influence is based on others’ respect for one’s culture.
    • Political influenceis how much others are inspired by one’s political values.
  • The uk leads the world in ‘soft power’, according to a portland communications ranking,which assesses nations on six measures of reputation and influence — government, culture, education, global engagement, enterprise, and digital.

Comparison of soft power: india vs china

Soft power is difficult to measure. The lowy institute in australia has produced various measures.

  • Foreign policy influence,overall, india ranks sixth and china ranks first among 25 asian powers. It also includes the us as it has a huge diplomatic, military, and economic presence in asia.
    • Diplomatic networks:  india nearly matches china in the number of regional embassies it has but is considerably behind in the number of embassies worldwide (176 to 126).
    • Multilateral power:india matches china in terms of regional memberships, but, crucially, its contributions to the un capital budget are miniscule compared to chinese contributions (11.7 per cent to 0.8 per cent of the total).
    • Foreign policy leadership, ambition, and effectiveness: china ranks first or fourth on four measures while india ranks between fourth and sixth in asia.
  • Cultural influence: india ranks in fourth place and china in second place in asia.
    • In cultural projection, india scores better on google searches abroad of its newspapers and its television/radio broadcasts.
    • It also exports more of its “cultural services”(defined as “services aimed at satisfying cultural interests or needs”).
    • In the number of unesco world heritage sites, india has 37 while china has 53.
    • Visa free travel: chinese citizens can travel visa-free to 74 countries while indians can only do so to 60.
    • Information flows: in 2016–17, india hosted a mere 24,000 asian students in tertiary education institutions whereas china hosted 2, 25,000.
    • Tourist arrivals: in 2017 india clocked 5 million arrivals from asia whereas china clocked 41 million and ranked first among 25 asian countries.
    • On total tourist arrivals from all over the world, india received 17 million, while china received 63 million.
  • Political influence:the governance effectiveness index shows india scoring in the top 43 per cent countries worldwide and ranked 12th and china scoring in the top 32 per cent and ranked 10th.
    • It depends upon political stability and absence of violence/terrorism.
    • India ranked 21st, with 79 percent of countries worldwide doing better, and china ranked 15th with 63 per cent doing better.

Overall china surpasses india in soft power projection, though the difference in some cases is not large.

Challenges for india in soft power domain:

  • Low influence in regional conversations: when india is in the conversation, confidence in its regional ambitions, economic, military, and diplomatic capabilities and cultural and political fit with southeast asia are thought to be low.
    • It is clearly documented in the state of southeast asia survey reports issued annually by the institute of southeast asian studies in singapore.
  • China involved in all international conversations:china is involved in all conversations about international affairs, regional geopolitics, global and asian economy and technology, and even contemporary culture (art, music, literature, fashion). India can’t have soft power if it is not even in the conversation.

Except for south asia, this is the case all over the world. China evokes awe; india evokes silence, a polite shake of the head, or exasperation. Classical india may stand head-to-head with classical china in the regard it garners, but contemporary india has been left a distance behind. We have to recognize this fact for some meaningful progress.


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