Pluralist democracies have soft power advantage, says research


Credit: University of Edinburgh


In a world first, researchers have found that a state’s soft power has statistically significant impact on foreign direct investment (FDI), overseas student recruitment, tourism, and international influence in fora like the UN General Assembly, the British Council reports:

The new research  was conducted by the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. It used available data from 2000 to 2012. Experts assessed how various forms of soft power – including cultural institutions, prosperity and internet connectivity, democracy and foreign aid, and overall cultural ranking – influenced a country’s international pull. 

“Our statistical findings confirm that democratic pluralism, economic prosperity, and internationally networked cultural institutions provide dividends: they are positively related to incoming international student and tourist arrivals; they result in incoming FDI; and they affect UNGA voting behavior,” the authors write.

Political pluralism is a strong value and exercises institutional pull,” the research confirms. “High levels of democracy and low levels of political rights restrictions attract international students and tourists, foreign direct investment, and they moderate voting patterns at the United Nations.”

The study concludes that “the future of soft power is in the hands of Western style democracies,” but that does not preclude a strong challenge from revisionist authoritarian states, others suggest.

China has further opportunities to project soft power through aid spending following the announcement in March of a possible 32 per cent cut – equivalent to about US$13.5 billion – in all U.S. non-military spending abroad, The South China Morning Post reports:

Between 2000 and 2014, China gave almost US$354.4 billion in aid and other forms of support to 140 countries, according to research published on Wednesday by AidData, a US-based project that tracks flows of development assistance. The US spent a corresponding US$394.6 billion in the same period.

“A striking finding is that China and the US are effectively spending rivals in the broader definition of aid. However, the composition differences in their portfolios are big,” said Bradley Parks, one of the five researchers on the report from Heidelberg University in Germany, and Harvard University and the College of William and Mary in the United States. He described the report as “the most comprehensive and detailed source of project information about China’s global development footprint ever.”

But for all its efforts, China has had a limited return on its investment, the University of Edinburgh research concludes;

A recent BBC poll shows that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America, but predominantly negative in the United States and Europe, as well as in India, Japan and South Korea. A poll taken in Asia after the Beijing Olympics found that China’s charm offensive had been ineffective. What China seems not to appreciate is that using culture and narrative to create soft power is not easy when they are inconsistent with domestic realities.

“Pluralist democracies follow a diffused soft power strategy that works its way through various levels and channels, including the activities of national cultural institutions, citizen diplomacy, educational and cultural institutions, and is related to the health of their economies,” the report notes. While “top-down soft power strategies of countries like China seem quite attractive,” the study’s “quantitative results indicate that China may be an outlier.” RTWT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email