Countries with high levels of prestige can attract other states to support their foreign policy goals. Conversely, states with a negative global image struggle to cultivate international support. Prestige is thus a source of state power, a conduit through which states with high levels of prestige can convert resources into policy outcomes. In order to analyze China’s changing position in the world, it is necessary to assess the source of China’s international prestige and influence.
What do the experts think?
Chair, 21st Century China Program & Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California-San Diego
Co-founder, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies & Professor, Free University of Brussels
Manila-based Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
What does China’s government do to actively promote its international prestige and influence? Does this differ from what other major countries do?
Holsag: China has tried to convince the rest of the world that its ambitions are peaceful, and that its ascent will stand as a kind of exception, even compared to the more belligerent development of great powers in the past. Listen
Shirk: China recognized that its growing economic and military power inevitably creates perceptions of a China threat, so it worked very hard to reassure other countries . . . that it isn’t a threat. Listen
Moss: The main way China promotes itself and tries to increase its prestige is through its sheer scale and economic muscle, it gives it a shock factor . . . that other countries can’t match. Listen
Holsag: It seeks to present its development model as a very effective alternative to the traditional liberal free trade and democratic model of the West. Listen
A country’s ability to attract or persuade others is a key component of its “soft” power. How successful are China’s leaders at cultivating soft power?
In what ways does China most successfully promote its international prestige and influence? In what areas is China not making headway?
Shirk: China has become a good global citizen, and that has helped impress a lot of other countries that China doesn’t represent a threat. So I think that at the global level it’s been quite successful, and the United States has been the main sponsor of China joining [global] institutions. Listen
Moss: In terms of hard power China has been very successful, we can see that in all kinds of ways. Listen
Holslag: Chinese diplomats and politicians [have been] very successful at convincing other leaders . . . that cooperating with China would be a very lucrative thing. The result of that has been that China has cajoled a lot of its partners into asymmetric partnerships. Listen
Moss: China’s military modernization has been very successful in terms of perception . . . in terms of influence and the way China is viewed in the region, it has really been a game changer. Listen
Why do the peoples of some countries have a very positive view of China, while the peoples of some other countries have a very negative view of China?
Holslag:I believe that geographic proximity is still the most important factor. Listen
Moss: I think it really stems a lot from the political culture of the country in question. In the West, we instinctively abhor China’s political system. We just don’t really trust the government’s motives and that almost poisons our view of China. Listen
Holslag: There is the democratic factor. In countries where you have an open public debate and a large role of private news media, in general we see that they are more critical of China’s rise on their own interests. Listen
Moss: China is viewed very differently, particularly in developing parts of the world, where China has been seen as a very valuable partner for a long time. Listen
In 2015, public opinion polls showed that only 9% of Japanese held favorable views of China, while 82% of Pakistanis held positive views of China. How are views of China in other countries trending?
What sort of events may cause a sudden shift in how China is viewed on the global stage?
Holslag: A sharp economic slowdown for sure, because I believe this would inevitably put into doubt the “China Model.” Listen
Moss: It’s far easier to ruin your reputation very quickly, which is what China has done with the South China Sea situation. Listen
Shirk: More aggressive behavior will cause a lot of countries to have more anxieties about a China threat. Listen
Holslag: You see a combination of both economic distress and then also growing complexity in regard to these territorial disputes, South China Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan, the border with India. It could decrease China’s diplomatic maneuverability and also make it much, much harder to stick to this line of peaceful growth, peaceful development. Listen
Shirk: Domestic repression in China today is getting so severe that although it may not look like the1989 Tiananmen crisis, it is definitely harming China’s international reputation. Listen