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China Agenda Setting in South Asia: Skills of Smart Power

©2018 Akademische Arbeit 23 Seiten


In setting of today’s international system, the Chinese foreign policy in South Asia is increasingly influenced due to the determinants of geopolitical and political economy outlooks. This paper attempts to explore Chinese agenda setting in South Asia in terms of soft and hard power policies. China has been expanded its geopolitical and economic interest in South Asia by means of investment, aid, military assistance, economic cooperation and trade ties. By using as an instrument of “smart power” (adroit behavior of using soft and hard power collectively) has become a vehicle to promote the Chinese national interests in South Asia. Based on the analysis of various determinants concerning soft and hard power, this paper contextualized that China is competently functioning its skills of smart power in realm of South Asia.


China’s Agenda Setting in South Asia: Skills of Smart Power


In setting of today’s international system, the Chinese foreign policy in South Asia is increasingly influenced due to the determinants of geopolitical and political economy outlooks. This paper attempts to explore Chinese agenda setting in South Asia in terms of soft and hard power policies. China has been expanded its geopolitical and economic interest in South Asia by means of investment, aid, military assistance, economic cooperation and trade ties. By using as an instrument of “smart power” (adroit behaviour of using soft and hard power collectively) has become a vehicle to promote the Chinese national interests in South Asia. Based on the analysis of various determinants concerning soft and hard power, this paper contextualized that China is competently functioning its skills of smart power in realm of South Asia.

Key words: Soft power, smart power, hard power, public diplomacy and cultural exchange


The strategy of any country relies upon several characteristics. Those very characteristics declare that in which direction its foreign policy would set up. The foreign relations of a country on the world map is not only crucial for its existence there but also for its survival in the near future (Pathak, 2014). Understanding China intention in international forum, the backdrop of Chinese improvements are very crucial to understand. Almost all academic papers portray about the Chinese revolutionary steeping in military, technology, and economic, political and diplomatic aspect. The Chinese behaviour in goal setting can be analysed in terms of interpretative frameworks. The Xi Jing Ping doctrine for global peace and security agenda in the upcoming decade within this complex international global political scenario, China will have tremendous challenges to complete. In last few decades, China had been pursued a neutral strategy. Following the cold war, the US interest in Asian peninsula along with neighbouring countries unstable political environment, China key ostensible strategy has been also changed. In post 9/11period, the US National Security Strategy for “global war against terrorism” and the swiftness of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Iraq war and consecutive rapid outburst of terrorist groups in Middle East countries, insurgency, civil war and political unrest, leads to the surrounding environment of China has numerous security implications.

The instruments of old order IR system- economic, military, diplomacy and information had been core factors that lead to national policy objectives. Traditionally, the states opted for hard power tools in the framework of realpolitik thinking (Raimzhanova, 2015, p. 1). But, the post-Cold War instruments have been changed and various dimensions are added in IR topics, such as political economy, perception management, soft diplomacy, peace enforcement and peacekeeping; considered as an important tools and techniques. The foreign policy of China, consists of self-interest strategies to safeguard its national goals in international milieu, has been guided by long term policies. Due to the economic globalization and interdependence of countries, state cannot perform unilaterally, so to enter in the globalized world order states foreign policy will have interaction with states and non-states actors. The international institutions also have a wider role in IR, also called the actors in global arena. Thus the contemporary IR covers all subjects including states, international institutions and non-state actors; they have equal strength and influencing capacity in global politics. Through 60 years of thick and thin, China’s diplomacy has accumulated a wealth of experience, has realized that China cannot develop without the world and the world cannot become prosperous without China (Zhang, 2010, p. 5). But, the question has come with China how to handle these tremendous challenges along with acting as a good leadership state? So, it is important to understand the concept of smart power from Chinese standpoint; as a strong type of powers which is not generally contextualized. The scholarly research writings are advocated on hard and soft power; within Chinese soft power policy as a strong determinant of foreign policy.

In the 21st Century, soft power has been emerging according to some scholars (Trunkos, 2013, p.1). As per Nye’s definition of power- an ability to affect others to achieve the outcomes one wants (Nye, 1990, p.154; Raimzhanova, 2015, p.3). The motive of soft power is to reach the set agenda through non coercive measures. To implement the soft strategy, it is always important to consider the other parties needs and wants at the moment. But in domain, the weaker and stronger side (national resources) has come and question arise that who will apply the power strategy; the answer is of course the stronger side. In her confirmation hearings, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. . . . We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal." Since then, editorial pages and blogs have been full of references to "smart power (Nye, 2009). Now, the raising China ability to affect South Asia through attractive agenda setting is likely shifting from soft power to smart power policy. This article highlights the concept of smart power. Why and how China has been applied its smart power in context of South Asia? What is the strategy and goal setting agendas of smart power in South Asia?

Review of Literature

Kissinger (1994) predicted that the former Soviet Union in the Cold War period was a military superpower and at the same time an economic dwarf, but the traditional concepts of power had substantially broken down (p.23). The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 had weakened the ideological appeal of communism for the rest of the world and even more important, the split between China and the Soviet Union undermined Moscow’s pretence to be the leader of a united communist movement (p.704). All the developments suggested that there was a scope for a new diplomatic flexibility. Ting and Tsai (2015) in article title Soft Power and China’s New Diplomacy explained that a growing number of western scholars have taken heed of Beijing’s continuing expansion in soft power (p. 30). In 2003, China proposed the catch phrase “peaceful rise” and other popular term “harmonious world” first appeared in the 2005 Asia-Africa Summit in Jakarta (pp. 31-32). On the subject of “peaceful rise”- it implies that China pursue a policy of none harming to the other states. This terminology is oriented for developing or rising more gently than to go on open competition. The slogan from peaceful rise to harmonious world seems that the latter slogans covers utility in internal as well as external matter .i.e. rise and maintain spirit for the betterment of the world. The harmonious world as per the China President Hu Jintao is jointly promoted friendship, equal dialogue and prosperity among civilizations. The essence of China’s good neighbour policy includes the following points: resolution of border conflicts through peaceful negotiations, establishment of cooperative relations and bilateral dialogue, participation in multilateralism and joint conflict resolution and establishment of deeper economic cooperation (pp. 33-34).

Nye (2004) in book entitled Soft power; the means to success in world politics; soft power can achieve the desired goals through attraction or persuasion (co-option), without the necessity of using force (p.42). Three resources, according to Nye, constitute the soft power of a country, namely political values, culture, and foreign policies (p.132).In behavioural terms, soft power is attractive power, and soft power resources produce this attractive power (pp.130-131). Leslie Gelb, in an otherwise estimable new book, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy, argues that "soft power now seems to mean almost everything" because both economic and military resources can influence other states (Gelb, 2009; in Nye, 2009, July 01).


This paper examines Chinese strategy (foreign policy) of agenda setting in South Asia through thematic content analysis and secondary sources. The Chinese strategy i.e. the foreign relations of China to its neighbouring countries, especially South Asia is attraction of this paper. To reach the questions regarding the China geopolitical viability in South Asia, the researcher has found out the core geopolitical values in relation to South Asia and why it is important. To address the questions regarding why and how China has been setting its smart power agenda is formulated through Chinese aid, assistance, trade, projects and foreign policy of China to South Asia (particular focus to the treaties, bilateral and multilateral relationship, diplomacy& discourse analysis through statement and speeches of China head of state). The strategy and goal setting agenda has clarified by current China power politics and long term strategic from geopolitical and political economy outlooks. Based on this analysis, this paper draws conclusions of China attractive agenda setting in South Asia.

Conceptual Clarification

Trunkos (2013), in paper entitled what is Soft Power Capability and How Does it Impact Foreign Policy? Clarify the concept of soft power capabilities in foreign policy. He focused on resource aspect .i.e. national resources perspectives. The three major components- public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and financial aid play a role in soft power. On the other hand, the coercive measures, deterrence and threats through military and economic might are hard power, which were outdated in international forum of a particular foreign policy of a country. So China economic capacity is the objective aspect on which basis China has been setting attractive agendas. As per the definition of hard power given by (Nye, 2004), using military or economic coercion to get others to change their position. The foreign policy instruments can be forms of pressure and influence available to decision makers, represent an ascending scale of seriousness in terms of the commitment of resources, the impact of third parties and the degree of risk in use (Trunkos, 2013, p.5). Soft power alone may not be sufficient, but its relative strategic importance compared to hard power will continue to increase (McClory, 2011, p.24; Raimzhanova, 2015). Smart power advocates need to articulate the advantages of hard power, such as strong military, in combination with investing in alliances, partnerships and institutions and the ability to skilfully combine hard and soft power for the development of interrelated strategies is called smart power (Nye &Armitage, 2007, p.7). Pallaver (2011, pp.97-99) rationalizes the decision making process and the choice of power frames in four-steps: understanding the context, appropriate power choices, the effectiveness of power solution for the outcomes, and the successful implementation of agendas. So, the China co-opt policy as attractive agenda setting can be discussed in terms of its keeping of agendas to attract South Asia and its neighbouring countries.

Beginning China Soft Power in South Asia

The history of China’s external relations in the 100 years before the founding of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 was one subjected to endless bullying and humiliation, and old China’s diplomacy was one of humiliation (Zhang, 2010, p. 16). The diplomatic task as a means of foreign policy of New China has become focused on three tasks, namely territorial integrity, national independence and sovereignty. Upon the founding of New China on October 1, 1949, it was very important for China to clearly uncover the source of threats that came from. The China first diplomatic relation was set up with Russia, according after being founded on October 2, 1949, and both side signed a Treaty- Sino- Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance, which gave China a reliable ally and confidence and a guarantee for its security. The China claimed that forceful US intervention of Korean War, Indochina and thereafter hidden politics of involvement in internal affairs (upon the Taiwan territory) results that China’s relation to the US shifted to the opposition. But at the same time, the Soviet leader Brezhnew proclamation that Soviet Union was entitled to interfere in the internal affairs of other Socialist countries, urgently felt by China that keeping relation only with Soviet had become dangerous. So China was looking the appropriate way to secure oneself, neighbouring countries and super power, which ultimately leads improving relation with US. In his meeting with foreign guests in 1973, Mao Zedong proposed: “ The U.S, Japan, and China, connected with Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, the Arab World, and Europe, should all get united; one big area of the Third World get united” to oppose to the Soviet threat (Zhang, 2010). Beginning to the US involvement in Afghanistan War for supporting to the Taliban against the Soviet’s expansion and US advocacy for Human rights issue of 1989, US-China relation had been seen volatile. Since the end of Cold War, the non-traditional threats like insurgency, terrorism, genocide, civil war, ethnic cleansing and role of non-state actors are some of the looming security concerns for China. As the political Report to the 17th National Congress the CCP states: “Whatever changes take place in the international situation, the Chinese government and people will always hold higher banner of peace, development and cooperation, pursue an independent foreign policy of peace (Zhang, 2010, p. 25)

In 1993, President Jiang Zemin’s chief advisor and former Professor of Fudan University, Wang Huning published an article, stressing the importance of soft power in China’s foreign policy (Hongyi & Lu, 2012, p. 11; Farhana, 2015).Various think tanks in China have held conferences and seminars to debate Nye’s theory (Farhana, 2015). Soft power was first mentioned in the political report to the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress in 2002, stating that “in today’s world, culture intertwines with economics and politics, demonstrating a more prominent position and role in the competition for comprehensive national power (Zemin, 2002; Paruk, 2015). Post 9/11 context, again US containment in South Asian peninsula, posed different meaning to China. China is also confirmed that for stability, the peripheral environment will become important. Accordingly, China was also well aware on the fact that India’s overwhelming size, military modernization, thinking of India’s inheritor, and meanwhile, India’s assertive role also aware China should to act as a tactful way. Geopolitically, then, during legacy of the major war fought with India has been a determined Chinese strategy, despite intermittent bonhomie - of containment and encirclement of India through entente and alliances with India’s neighbours (Nayar, 2010, p. 101). The first idea refers to the fact that although China is a growing power, it will not grow along the same lines as other great powers of the past, namely not by military force and material acquisition, and Harmonious world refers preference for global peace and stability through cooperation and communities rather than alliances and overt use of force (Lanteigne, 2009, p. 12).

South Asia in Chinese Foreign Policy

Clearly, the foreign policy making of any state is interrelated to national interests. The core Chinese foreign policy is directed by the principle of mutual non- aggression, non-interference, equality and mutual respect, and peaceful co-existence. On the other hand, however, Chinese officials repeat that China is still a developing country firmly on the path of peace and development, and they reject the notion that China is becoming aggressive or tough but argue that China merely reserves the right to defend its principles and interests (Turcsányi, 2018). For any country, the core interests are not negotiable. Michael Swaine in his work focusing on the “Chinese concept of core interest” (Swaine 2011; Turcsányi, 2018), which mentioned about that China is standing still to its core interest. Core interests essentially mean areas which are non-negotiable for China, and where China would act more rigidly, perhaps even militarily and without observing international legal principles (Swaine 2011, p. 2; Turcsányi, 2018). From this, it is clear that China can react too if it might concern of its core interest.

Before revisiting the foreign policy of China in South Asia, I want to highlight some rapport of China in South Asia. China wants to maintain a stable regional environment, particularly focus to the peripheral countries. In foreign policy setting, hard power is equally decisive in a world of states trying to guard their independence and of non-states groups willing to turn to violence (Nye, 2004). The state border is the most vulnerable in terms of high chances of security point of view. So, the foremost priority is to secure the boundary from external threats and challenges. China had already undergone some peaceful border agreements with South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Burma and Afghanistan during the early 1960s. China established its diplomatic relation with Pakistan in 1950. Sino-Sri Lanka relationship existed since by signing the Rubber-Rise agreement in 1952. Accordingly, in 2005 China and Sri Lanka signed a joint communiqué to further bilateral relations and provide each other Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment (Soysa, 2012). Nepal and China established formal diplomatic relation in August 1955, though both countries have had social, religious and political relationship since historical era. Regarding relationship with India, the formal diplomatic relation was established in 1950, though there have been a series of disputes between the two countries, including China’s fervent opposition to India’s potential membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); Beijing’s shielding of Pakistan and blocking Indian efforts within the UN to designate the Pakistan-based terrorist, Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist; the Doklam crisis that went on for more than two months last summer; and India’s open opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (Rajagopalan, 2018, March 01). Thus, at one side Beijing's South Asia policy is tied to China's military security concerns vis-à-vis that of India and territorial disputes (Malik, 2001). Chinese foreign policy in South Asia in terms of attractive agenda setting are mainly activated due to geopolitical and political economy motivations.

Geopolitical Perspectives

Historically, Chinese geopolitics mainly focused on land territories, most of their territorial disputes were solved in the 1960’s and 1990’s and China now focuses on its maritime influence (Milhiet, 2017). China always wants to reclaim Taiwan and continue claim Tibet as an autonomous region. The China shares almost 80% border with South Asia. Indeed, China proclamation about “One China Policy”- covers Taiwan, Tibet, Macau, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, which China considered these places as geopolitically important. China also has a major concern of India’s rise, and in South Asia India seems to be a regional power by default (Wagner, 2017, p.1). The US also has a continuous keeping his eye to make an arc of Asia that crosses the South Asia. Developments in the fields of politics, economics, and security indicate that India is at a structural disadvantage to China in the region (Wagner, 2017). Daniel S. Markey, adjunct senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia claimed border disputes or colliding maritime ambitions—is by it unlikely to spark conflict between China and India (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016). However, Chinese geopolitics has more proximity to economic factors than military factors. We all know that the Chinese economy has been continuously rising, so China is searching the easy way of market. China needs friends to fulfil its geopolitical goals. The large ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia- three countries along a major oil and commerce route from the Mideast and Africa- could someday double as naval logistics hubs (Watkins, Lai & Bradsher, 2018, November 26).

The “String of Pearls” is the concept of strategy for China that covers Chinese life line of trade. “The String of Pearls”- as shown in figure (I) appear that how South Asia is geo-politically important to China, which covers Gwadar port in Pakistan, naval bases in Burma and intelligence gathering point of view in Bay of Bangal. China is building continuously ports under the rim of Indian Ocean which eventually gain the commercial maritime access along the round of the Indian Ocean and will play a vital role in supply of natural gas, oil and natural gas (Soyas, 2012). Chinese investment in port facilities in strategic locations in the Indian Ocean (including Chittagong in Bangladesh, Gwadar in Pakistan, Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Marao in the Maldives, Kyaukpyu in Burma [Myanmar], Lamu in Kenya, and Bagamoyo in Tanzania) is viewed by many in India as part of a concerted plan by China to develop a geopolitical “string of pearls” to contain India (Brewster, 2015, August 30). Chinese state-owned companies control two-Chinese-built ports on the Indian Ocean, in Sri Lanka and Pakistan and two more are planned for Myanmar and Bangladesh helping China achieve its maritime strategy of a “string of Pearls” stretching from the mainland to port Sudan in Africa (Goodman &Perlez, 2018, November 26). The scholars consider the construction of Gwadar port strategically important for China because it becomes the shortest route through Pakistan’s highway in Karakoram. Accordingly, China presence in Indian Ocean region (accounts for half the world’s seaborne container traffic, and 70 percent of the total traffic of the world’s petroleum) China considers the Ocean to be a key strategic waterway because a significant portion of its goods and oil transit through the Ocean (Khan, 2018, August 01). China is fulfilling its geopolitical strategy in South Asia through soft power policy. Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Burma and Sri Lanka are especially heightened under the China’s relations with South Asia (Soyas, 2012).



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ISBN (Paperback)
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Tribhuvan University – Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies
2019 (September)
china’s agenda setting south asia skills smart power

Titel: China Agenda Setting in South Asia: Skills of Smart Power