December 17, 2011

The Economist and China's Soft Power: Et tu, Sun Tzu?

A pathetic attempt to discredit Sun Tzu as an instrument of Chinese Soft Power

As part of its Christmas-holiday double issue, The Economist has published two articles about China: one about its Soft Power and another about the dismal state of Chinese football. John Micklethwait, the Editor-in-Chief, describes the double issue as one in which "Journalists write about odd subjects, pet subjects, any subjects that took their fancy during the year and that did not fit into the normal run of our coverage." Well, "odd" is certainly not the word that can be used to describe the two above, as they actually fit into the standard Economist rhetoric about all its China-related reporting. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and even the "pet subjects" that "did not fit into the normal run" of their coverage are not far different from, well, their normal coverage.

In "Sun Tzu and the art of soft power" (I intend to discuss the second article in my next post), the newspaper questions, without offering an alternative, the validity and usefulness of using Sun Tzu as an instrument of Chinese Soft Power. A couple of idiotic points stand out in the analysis. 

The article quips:
"Yet a closer look reveals Sun Tzu’s flaws as a tool of soft power. Chinese attempts to remould him as a man of peace stumble over the fact that his book is a guide to winning wars...."
You think? Yes - It is a book on war, as the title suggests. But as the article itself makes abundantly clear, it only looks at war as a LAST RESORT. It seems that the author is, in the tradition of all Economist reporting about China, desperately trying to manipulate facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.
Sun Tzu himself said "The skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting". What better description of Soft Power than this?

"But Guangrao too will have a hard time turning Sun Tzu into a soft-power icon. In April about 700km (430 miles) to the south, Disney broke ground in Shanghai at the site of an amusement park that it says will feature the world’s largest Disney castle. "
One wonders what the author's point is in comparing the Disney castle to China's soft power. China's projection of soft power abroad need not be related to American projection of soft power in China. it need not be a zero-sum game. 

Secondly, it appears that the author has gotten confused with China's projection of soft power ABROAD and the "values it promotes at home". Projecting soft power is not the monopoly of the west. The west largely has only commercial "products" to promote - creature comforts, so to speak - as opposed to China and India.

The author, in his/her disorientation, seems to have confused average Chinese following Confucian or ancient Chinese ideals with the promotion of of those ideals as an instrument of Chinese Soft Power abroad.

The Economist, as indeed all other major western media outlets, have succumbed to the standard folly of assuming that Soft power and Foreign Policy and Geopolitics are related. However, in America's case, the numerous wars and the millions of deaths it has caused around the world have mattered not a whit in decreasing America's soft power abroad, which remains stronger than ever. Hence, the influence of any country's Soft Power abroad has actually to do more with convenience and entertainment than with any love or appreciation for the projecting country. People eat at McDonalds because they like it, they watch Hollywood movies because they enjoy them, not because they love the US.