Chinese Soft Power and Its Implications for the United States

Competition and Cooperation in the Developing World

China has been pursuing its national interests recently through the exercise of “soft power,” as it projects a nonconfrontational face to the developing world. It is China’s rapid economic expansion—and the country’s need for natural resources, export markets, and political influence—that has led it to step up its engagement with developing countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Extensive debate is ongoing in China regarding the source of the country’s soft power and its reasons for utilizing it. It currently lacks a coordinated national soft-power strategy and views its soft power as defensive and largely reactive, a point of view intended to allay fears in other states of a Chinese threat. In the United States, also, debate is taking place about whether China’s soft-power projection represents healthy competition or a strategic threat.

Engaging China successfully on critical global issues such as climate change, energy, and security requires an accurate assessment of Chinese policy, exigencies, and progress in these issue areas. This new report from the CSIS Smart Power Initiative seeks to provide such an assessment, offering a multifaceted view of China’s use of smart power and its implications for the United States.

Edward C. Chow
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Andrew C. Kuchins

Jeffrey D. Bean

Stephen Flanagan, Johanna Mendelson Forman, Carola McGiffert, Jesse Kaplan, Roy Levy, Melissa Murphy, Derek J. Mitchell, Susana Moreira, Julianne Smith, Brian Harding

Bonnie S. Glaser