Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: An Alternate Conception of Soft Power: Chinese Understanding and Use of Soft Power as Examined Using Examples From Myanmar
Authors: Rasmussen, Sam
Advisors: Katz, Stanley
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Certificate Program: East Asian Studies Program
Class Year: 2019
Abstract: In several critical ways, China’s conception of soft power differs from America’s, even though it is commonly measured according to the same metric. In this thesis, I identify these differences and then examine the strengths and weaknesses of China’s approach to soft power through the lens of China’s soft power efforts in Myanmar. This research draws upon my knowledge of Myanmar gained from two summers interning at the State Department working on Myanmar issues, as well as my experiences studying abroad in China on three separate occasions, including a direct-enroll semester where I studied under one of China’s foremost international relations scholars, Li Bin. I also used my proficiency in Mandarin to read Chinese language materials and speeches on soft power. Additionally, I performed field work in Yangon and at the site of a controversial Chinese-backed hydropower dam in northern Myanmar which has been the focus of an intense Chinese soft power campaign. Finally, I conducted interviews with the chairs of two political parties, think tank researchers, a pastor and community leader, journalists, a consultant, NGO employees, and civil society leaders. I found that China takes a limited view of soft power, employing it primarily as a pragmatic tool to protect and promote China’s economic interests. Rather than seeking to generate soft power through creating a system of values that other nations will seek to emulate, China focuses its soft power efforts on convincing foreign countries that they will materially benefit from Chinese-sponsored development projects. Additionally, and although some attempts have been made to craft a larger narrative with the unveiling of the Belt and Road Initiative, the focus of Chinese soft power is targeted campaigns to support specific projects. This limited soft power strategy focused on promoting China’s economic growth is partly an outgrowth of China’s conception of itself as a vulnerable country desperately trying to recover its former wealth and position on the world’s stage after being impoverished and humiliated by the West. Further development of Chinese soft power is hampered by Chinese officials operating according to a domestic paradigm in which ordinary people follow elites and accept personal sacrifice for the good of the group. Using the halted Myitsone dam as a test case, I show the limitations of an elite-focused strategy in non-Confucian societies and that people living in states without a cohesive national identity are far less willing to sacrifice for the advancement of their nations or fellow citizens. Next, I demonstrate that the insecurities of the Communist Party of China compel it to censor its most talented and creative citizens, thus silencing voices that might otherwise spread Chinese culture and ideas. China’s insecurities also lead it to viciously oppress perceived threats such as minority groups or dissidents, which is particularly damaging to China’s international image among those who share religion, ideology, or ethnicity with the groups being persecuted. China’s sense that it is not respected on the world stage also drives it to assert its dominance through harsh and insensitive acts that breed resentment rather than attraction. Lastly, Chinese actions are increasingly being painted as exploitative as a consequence of China’s inability to control the narrative surrounding its rise. Weak international Chinese media, hamstrung by censorship and credibility issues, coupled with the West’s dominance of international media, leaves China at a serious disadvantage in the chaotic world of shaping perceptions of the news.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:East Asian Studies Program, 2017-2022
Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2023

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
RASMUSSEN-SAM-THESIS.pdf746.45 kBAdobe PDF    Request a copy

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.