X

New Report Assesses Patterns Of Chinese Soft Power In 17 European Countries

May 5th, 2021 12:40

The Euro­pean Think-tank Net­work on Chi­na (ETNC), com­prised of Chi­na experts from var­i­ous lead­ing Euro­pean research insti­tutes, has pub­lished a report map­ping and iden­ti­fy­ing dif­fer­ences in China’s soft-pow­er poli­cies in 17 Euro­pean coun­tries. The report argues that China’s rep­u­ta­tion and influ­ence is declin­ing in 10 of these coun­tries and that Bei­jing today seems less inter­est­ed in its appeal than in gain­ing coer­cive pow­er. Accord­ing to the report exec­u­tive summary:

  • Based on sep­a­rate analy­ses of 17 coun­tries and EU insti­tu­tions, this report con­cludes that Chi­nese soft pow­er in Europe – defined as the abil­i­ty to influ­ence pref­er­ences through attrac­tion or per­sua­sion – has fall­en on hard times.
  • Devel­op­ing soft pow­er has been a pil­lar of Chi­nese for­eign pol­i­cy and remains a stat­ed goal of China’s long-term pol­i­cy orientation.
  • We iden­ti­fy three promi­nent Chi­nese approach­es to devel­op­ing soft pow­er in Europe: pro­mot­ing Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture; shap­ing China’s image through the media; and using the sec­ondary soft-pow­er effects of eco­nom­ic prowess.
  • Recent­ly, and over the last year in par­tic­u­lar, Chi­na has become more assertive in attempt­ing to shape its image by expand­ing its toolk­it, par­tic­u­lar­ly to enhance its polit­i­cal mes­sag­ing. This includes the sys­tem­at­ic use of social media.
  • On the impor­tance of China’s econ­o­my, the lines can often be blurred between the attrac­tive­ness of eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tion and the pres­sures of eco­nom­ic coer­cion. With­hold­ing mar­ket access for Euro­pean firms and prod­ucts has long been an observed prac­tice of reac­tive Chi­nese diplo­ma­cy, but an increas­ing­ly for­mal­ized devel­op­ment of sanc­tion­ing mech­a­nisms, includ­ing “unre­li­able enti­ty lists” and export con­trol leg­is­la­tion, is a cause for grow­ing concern.
  • In oth­er words, mar­ket access, trade and invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties are per­haps the sin­gle largest fac­tor deter­min­ing China’s appeal in Europe, but also a major source of its coer­cive power.
  • Dif­fer­ent pat­terns of Chi­nese soft pow­er pro­jec­tions can be seen across four groups of coun­tries analysed in this report: 
    • the first group (Aus­tria, Hun­gary, Poland, Por­tu­gal and Slo­va­kia), Chi­na does not appear com­pelled to active­ly project its soft pow­er, most­ly because of the lack of pub­lic inter­est in these countries.
    • Italy and Greece, China’s soft pow­er approach aims to arrest the trend of a dete­ri­o­rat­ing image and is geared towards dam­age containment.
    • Ger­many, Latvia, the Nether­lands, Roma­nia, Spain and the UK, per­cep­tions of Chi­na are clear­ly becom­ing less favourable, and Bei­jing is strug­gling with grow­ing vigilance.
    • in Czechia, Den­mark, France, and Swe­den, China’s soft pow­er is clear­ly in a state of free fall.

Read the full report here.

Chi­na is known for its use of “soft pow­er” in order to sup­port its goals of expand­ing glob­al influ­ence. It has been active­ly attempt­ing to inter­fere in the cur­rent US elec­tions, albeit at a small­er scale than Rus­sia and with the aim of sow­ing con­fu­sion rather than sup­port­ing either can­di­date. Recent Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report cov­er­age of China’s soft pow­er instru­ments includes:

  • In April, we report­ed that Chi­na employs an exten­sive net­work of more than 20 mil­lion “inter­net com­men­ta­tors” to ampli­fy con­tent favor­able to the Chi­nese government.
  • In April, we report­ed that Chi­na has used a Chi­na-based Cana­di­an YouTu­ber to defend itself against accu­sa­tions of human rights vio­la­tions against the Mus­lim Uyghur pop­u­la­tion in Xinjiang.
  • In March, we report­ed that Chi­na tries to con­trol its inter­na­tion­al stu­dents study­ing at Scot­tish uni­ver­si­ties through stu­dent associations.