President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday attributed the nation’s recent “diplomatic breakthroughs” to Beijing’s commitment to “soft power,” a term coined by a US academic who was visiting Taiwan.
Since he came into office in 2008, Ma said he had committed himself to improving cross-strait relations and seeking peace and prosperity.
“Mainland China is also developing its soft power,” he said. “I guess both sides must have some kind of consensus so we can see a glimpse of light in cross-strait peace.”
The two sides have been doing their best to avoid war and pursue peace via economy and culture, which are similar to the concept of soft power, he said.
Ma made the remarks while meeting Joseph Nye Jr at the Presidential Office in the morning. Nye, in Taiwan for a two-day visit at the invitation of the Global Views Educational Foundation, gave a talk at the Presidential Office and attended a forum entitled “The Powers to Lead” in the afternoon.
During the morning talk, Nye said power has three dimensions: military, economic and soft power.
Despite talk that the rising China is likely to overtake the US by 2030, Nye said he thought it was hard to see China equal the US in military and soft power even if it were equal in size with the US in economic power.
In military power, Nye said China was unlikely to surpass the US in the next two decades, because the US was far ahead, with about half the world’s military expenditure.
In terms of soft power, Nye said China was making major investments through the Confucius Institutes and massive broadcasting projects via global cable TV channels.
However, China has not been getting a good return on its investment, because every time it imprisons someone like Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), it wastes the billions of dollars it has invested in broadcasting.
“China will never be able to develop soft power to full capacity until it is willing to change its political system,” Nye said.
Nye said power in the 21st century could be thought of as a 3D chessboard. At the top is the military, where the world is unipolar, with the US reigning supreme. The middle board represents the economic sphere, where the world is multipolar. At the bottom is transnational relations and soft power, which are chaotically distributed, he said.
Nye asked how we should deal with China, the world’s second-largest economy. The answer, he said, lies in smart strategies that combine both hard and soft power.
Nye said Taiwan was well on its way to implementing such a smart power strategy. On the one hand, Taiwan must have sufficient military strength; on the other, Taiwan’s ultimate protection lies in its relations with the US, which depends heavily on Taiwan’s soft power, he said.
“Sometimes people will say: ‘Would the Americans make a deal and sell out Taiwan for something that they want from China?’” Nye said.
“The answer is as long as Taiwan stands for democracy and human rights, that will be impossible in American political culture,” he said.
Another dimension to Taiwan’s soft power are the changes occurring inside China, Nye said. Although the changes were not occurring very fast at the top, they certainly were at lower levels, he said.
Nye said he supported the Ma administration’s plan to allow Chinese to study in Taiwan, calling it a good investment and exercise of soft power by which to change the minds of young Chinese.
Nye also praised Ma’s “courage” for saying that Beijing was wrong to incarcerate Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for advocating political freedom in China. Such a move dramatized what Taiwan stands for and helps enhance its soft power, he said.
On WikiLeaks, Nye said it was a good example of the way an individual or group of individuals can affect government, a new dimension he called “cyber power.”
Calling the impact “embarrassing, but not devastating,” Nye said WikiLeaks had done some damage, but not as much as people thought, as the most important secrets had not been touched.
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