Is growing ‘soft power’ key to China’s influence?

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There is almost no resemblance between that and China’s current efforts to buy influence. While China’s brand of Leninist capitalism and its disdain for human rights may attract favorable notice from dictators, even here China’s new clout is fundamentally based on what Mr. Nye called “the hard power of threats or payments.”

That is to say, it is in return for football stadiums, public works projects, exchange programs, generous aid packages, not to mention support in controversies with the United States and U.S.-led international organizations, that leaders in dozens of countries are cozying up to China. We are witnessing an exercise in hard power, not soft.

This conceptual confusion aside, Mr. Kurlantzick offers several useful case studies of how China operates on the ground to expand its influence. In Cambodia, when the World Bank threatened to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of assistance because of Phnom Penh’s “rampant corruption and its crackdown on civil liberties,” China rode to the rescue with an April 2006 offer of $600 million worth of grants and loans.

In Angola, home of the second-largest oil deposits in Africa, the International Monetary Fund tried to force the government “to agree to provisions that would slash graft and improve economic management.” Again China stepped in, offering a package of loans and credits worth up to 6 billion, on condition that Chinese firms carry out the reconstruction of the oil infrastructure. Privileged access to Angola’s oil resources may well be another, unpublicized, condition.

Mr. Kurlantzick ends by contrasting America’s idealistic promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights (along with, it must be said, more unsavory things such as population control and gender feminism) with China’s supposedly more pragmatic approach to international relations.

But China has its ideals as well. And its ideal, readers of “Charm Offensive” will come away convinced, is a world that pays tribute to China’s preeminence and sends its resources to Chinese ports, a world in which corrupt oligarchies rule and human rights are relegated to the dustbin of history. Such is the naivete of our current efforts to make China a “responsible stakeholder” in the existing international order.

Steven Mosher is president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Hegemon: China’s Plan to Dominate Asia.”

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