Wednesday, February 13, 2008

China Soft Power v. Hollywood Hard Power

I've been expecting this since I saw John Prendergast speak at USD's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice in January of '07. Mr. Prendergast spoke on the current situation in Sudan, and during the Q&A session talk turned to China's ties to Sudan. Mr. Prendergast spoke of grand plans for advertising campaigns and global protests in the lead up to and during the Beijing Olympics. A year later, Mr. Prendergast is the Scholar-in-Resident at the Kroc Institute and Steven Spielberg has raised the first high profile objection to China's Sudan Connection by resigning as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics. There is an even-handed account of Mr. Spielberg's resignation at the Financial Times. In celebration of partisan politics, I'm going to avoid that style and inject a little bias.

The strongest argument against Mr. Spielberg's resignation is that the Olympics are supposed to be about sport not politics. The FT article writes that "critics counter that Beijing itself ties the Games to its political agenda of promoting patriotism and "harmonious" development."" That statement is ridiculous, of course the Olympics are about promoting patriotism and development. Any nation rallies around their Olympic success and the IOC virtually demands that the hosts of the Olympics develop sufficient facilities for the Games. This is not so much a political agenda as a reality of the Olympics. As China's envoy to Sudan said last year, "anyone who linked the situation in Darfur with the Olympics was either ignorant of reality or steeped in obsolete cold war ideology."

China will probably not bend on its support of the sovereignty of the regime in Khartoum because China's diplomatic strategy is based on soft power. There is a nice article by David Roberts on China's soft power at Asia Times, China's soft power filling moral void. Mr. Roberts characterizes China's soft power diplomacy as such:
"In return for countries strict adherence to an avowed policy of sovereignty and non-interference in other states' affairs, China offer both unusual levels support even of smaller countries as well as, crucially, a reciprocated and fervent promise not to interfere in their policies."
Mr. Roberts writes that this allows China to deal with the less scrupulous nations of the world

Mr. Roberts characterizes hard power, soft's opposite as follows:
"[C]oercion of one form or another: you don't follow China's lead because you want to, but because there are implicit or explicit military, economic or diplomatic threats."
This is the sort of diplomacy the U.S. is more use to employing with nations of questionable character.

Mr. Spielberg is employing hard power by refusing to offer his services to the Beijing Olympics. This sort of tactic can work in the short term, but in the long run hard power invites "resentment and general antipathy," according to Mr. Roberts. When someone shows that they are unable to work with someone over a disagreement that is unrelated to the event, especially an event that celebrates a global community under the auspices of athletic competition, that person is showing that they are unwilling to work together on more ambitious projects. Mr. Spielberg represents more than just the Hollywood elite, he represents the United States, and this real politick is setting a dangerous precedent. Let alone, Mr. Spielberg's audacity in the statement that he would still like to attend the Games.

Mr. Roberts ends his article at Asia Times by suggesting that if the U.S. employed the same soft power tactics with the less moral regimes around the world, those regimes would have the chance to learn our values:
"One can only hope that through interaction with the West and the exchange of Western soft power, grandiose notions such as democracy and human rights will filter down however slowly and become embedded to help guard against the seductive allure of a mechanical foreign policy of naked self interest."
World peace and global human rights take time and cannot be foisted upon others by force. They take internal movements. Did Mr. Spielberg ever pause and think of the effect that his guidance, wisdom and, even, politics could have had on the Chinese film artists he would have worked with? Did he pause and think that by shunning China and the Olympics, an event that China is taking very seriously as a display of their rise from, essentially, a British colony to a [Fragile] Superpower he might be creating resentment, in not just Beijing but the common Chinese citizen, against the ideals that we Americans hold so dearly?


Cheri said...

Your last paragraph sums up the situation perfectly. The ridiculous part of Spielberg's position is that he still wants to attend the games and his half-hearted attempt at political correctness makes him look silly. I'm all for the idea of leading by example.

Chuck said...

Way to inject your personal bias, Will.