Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Courtesy: Shizuoka Shimbun

Soft power” is the ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion rather than by coercion and payment. I developed “soft power” as an analytic concept to fill a deficiency in the way analysts thought about power.

In July 2015, Portland, a London consultancy, released “The Soft Power 30: A Global Ranking of Soft Power,” which looked at objective indicators of various countries’ soft power resources, such as enterprise structure, culture, digital development, government, international engagement and education resources. The report combined these indicators with the results of public opinion polls that provided subjective measures of countries’ livability, foreign policy, luxury goods, culture, friendliness, tech products and cuisine. Based on these measures, the study ranked Britain first, followed closely by Germany, the United States, France and Canada. (These are the same five countries — although ranked Germany, USA, UK, France and Canada — that appear in the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brand Index, another effort to measure soft power.)

Japan ranked eighth, ahead of Sweden and the Netherlands, and was virtually tied with Switzerland. It was the only Asian country ranked in the top 10. Japan ranked very high in the dimensions of enterprise, engagement and education, but less well in government, culture or digital connectedness. The United States placed first in culture, education and digital development, but fell behind in government. The questions about culture, in which the U.S. ranked first, included such measures as films, tourism, top five albums in foreign countries, exports of creative goods, Olympic gold medals and annual attendance at the Global Top 100 Museums. Most notably, Russia did not make the top 30, and China just squeezed in at number 30.

It is worth looking at the China case in more detail since China has been spending billions of dollars each year to increase its soft power.

China has always had an attractive traditional culture, but now it has created hundreds of Confucius Institutes around the world to teach its language and culture, and China is increasing its international radio and television broadcasting. Moreover, China’s economic success has attracted others, and it has used aid programs to curry favor in other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In the last decade, it became common to refer to these efforts as “China’s Charm Offensive.”

But, as recent polls show, China has not reaped a good return on its investment. For example, a July 2015 Pew Research Center poll showed the United States outranking China in favorability in all major regions, except the Middle East, where American foreign policy is particularly unpopular. This reflects the limitations in China’s strategy, which overly stresses culture, yet neglects civil society and the damage done by nationalistic policies.

Japan does well on soft power today because it has an attractive culture; a democratic political system; a clean environment; a healthy, well-ordered civil society; and, for the most part, has avoided the excessive nationalism that once characterized its past.


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