You are here

2008 Beijing Olympics

China’s Approach to Soft Power: Seeking a Balance between Nationalism, Legitimacy and International Influence

Osamu Sayama
Occasional Papers, 17 March 2016
China, International Security Studies, Information
In recent years soft power has become an important part of China's foreign policy. Through the promotion of 'socialist core values' and traditional Confucian values, Beijing has sought to both strengthen its voice and influence in the world, and ensure domestic stability. However, so far China's soft-power efforts have not been particularly successful

The West has long recognised that soft power can be an inexpensive and low-risk route to influencing others. In 2007 soft power was identified as an important feature of China's national policy. It has since sought to articulate its own theoretical basis for soft power and has made a concerted effort to increase its soft-power activities around the world.

This paper argues that China's soft power is based on a combination of modern Marxist and ancient Confucian thought. These ‘Chinese values’ are seen as being in competition with the ‘American values’ of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. In developing its own soft power, Beijing wants to strengthen its voice and influence in the world, and, above all, to encourage a sense of pride within Chinese living in China and overseas, in order to strengthen the control of the Chinese Communist Party. The Confucius Institutes are the main tool that Beijing uses to exercise soft power abroad, but it has also used the television and the internet to spread its message. So far China's soft-power activities have not been particularly successful, mainly due to Beijing's reluctance to accept the risks of allowing an uncensored civil society.


Osamu Sayama is a Visiting Fellow in the International Security Studies group at RUSI.

Support Rusi Research

Subscribe to our Newsletter