Friday, April 16, 2010

Tibetan economics

No, it isn't a new form of economics. Instead it's the subject of a story on The Economist about economic development in Tibet. I think it's definitely worth a read so you can appreciate why the Chinese government wants to develop the region.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The soft side of China

In 1990 a well-known political scientist, Joseph Nye, coined the term "soft power." For those of you unfamiliar with the term, soft power is when other countries want what another country wants. In regards to China, soft power would be reflected when other countries want the same thing China wants. No need to threaten or persuade. It's similar to a person having Golden Retriever (without a wagging tail), where a Golden is up to doing anything its owner wants to do (especially playing fetch or eating).

This "soft power" is different from military or economic power (otherwise known as "hard power") in that its sources are cultural attractiveness, political ideology, and activity abroad. Put simply, if other countries like the culture and have good feelings about China, then China will have a lot of soft power. The problem is that measuring soft power is really hard. How does one quantify or qualify cultural attractiveness? The number of movies, pop songs, or Nobel prize awards? Using any of those doesn't quite do the trick, as we don't know how one more movie, pop song, or Nobel prize enhances a country's soft power.

That all said, people are making a big deal about China's "soft power." I'm really skeptical on the subject, especially when everyone agrees that the source of soft power is the attractiveness of culture to foreign audiences; it isn't something that a state can really promote. After all, when you know that a government is trying to shape your opinion, you're more likely to believe the exact opposite of what it is saying. So when I see something like CFR's article on China's soft power, I cringe. It details China's commercial diplomacy more than anything else. Sure, people in Southeast Asia and Pakistan have favorable views of China now, but Southeast Asia definitely has concerns about China in the future. Soft power, like any other type of power, comes and goes. Moreover, because soft power's primary source is culture, it takes a while (say more than a generation) to actually see any payoff. China just really started to focus on soft power in 2006. Little too early to talk about its soft power from my perspective.

In the Western world (including South Korea and Japan), there is still a lot of anxiety surrounding China's intentions. Throw Tiananmen Square and Tibet on top of China's increasing military capabilities and you have a recipe for almost continual suspicion of China. For all the talk about China's "soft power" there really isn't much to it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The U.S. is still the top dog

Foreign Policy is running an article that I think illustrates American preeminence in the international community. Looking at the list of the 40+ countries and what they want from the United States, it is hard to believe speculation that United States has suffered from a loss of stature within the international community.

My logic (and it may be flawed), is that if the United States was viewed by other states as weaker and not a useful partner (or means) in pursuit of their goals, then fewer countries would be in attendance. Moreover, one wouldn't see the diversity of "wants" when the foreign dignitaries get their time with American officials. Compare this to when foreign officials go to China, economics tends to be the overriding topic of discussion.

However, my logic applies as long as the current international system remains in place. Now how long that will be is a topic of frequent debate within political science, meaning that there is no firm answer. The problem in defining a specific period of time in which another state (read China) could be the dominant power within an international system is that what we know today is more defined than ever before in history. In no time prior to post-WWII has the international community had the breadth and depth of cooperation it has today. One only needs to look at the United Nations, World Bank, IMF, and the G20 to gain a sense of the interdependency. The United States lies at the heart of each of those bodies (the G20 less so than the other 3). For China to edge the United States out of its supremacy would be no small feat and would require lots of time (50+ years). It could be even longer if the international community does not share the same values of China.

So for those of you who doubt American influence, sorry to pop your bubble of depression (or joy depending on your feelings of American supremacy). The world still revolves around the U.S.