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Book Review: The propaganda war; By Asma Masood

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Picture courtesy: Grid News

C3S Article no: 0083/2017

Courtesy: The Hindu

Analysing China’s Soft Power Strategy and Comparative Indian Initiatives, Parama Sinha Palit, Sage Publications, Rs. 995

When Joseph Nye’s Soft Power was received with acclaim, little did we expect an array of literature on China’s approach to the new-age concept. However, this subject has attracted considerable interest, particularly among Western scholars. Parama Sinha Palit brings a non-western study on China’s global soft power strategies.

Being associated with the China Comparative Perspective Network (U.K.) and having knowledge of Mandarin, Palit is equipped to access a wide range of resources. She has deeply researched the facts of China’s ideologies behind its soft power engagement (Part I), as also its presence across South Asia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania, South Pacific, Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, Mongolia, Europe and Africa power (Part II). Part III throws light on Indian soft power, Sino-Indian engagement and comparison of Chinese and Indian dynamics.

While writing on such vast geographical frontiers, Palit lists various initiatives by the Chinese government. Some of these attract attention for little-known facts, such as those concerning Oceania, Mongolia and Southeast Asia. But she misses out on many aspects. For instance, mentioning Japan’s connections with China via inter-marriages and Chinese rage for anime would add more colour to the ‘vanilla’ narrative of governmental measures. Each of these regional chapters end with a conclusion on the challenges China faces while implementing its soft power measures. We must offer salves for China’s weaknesses as well, and not only India’s. This is because a stable China will need strong people-to-people contact, without which the global economy, including India’s is affected.

Nevertheless, the lack of Sino solutions has been compensated for by interesting chapters serving as bookends to the regional studies. The early chapters analyse Chinese historical background, ideology and various theoretical constructs. The closing chapters which include the Indian dimension are mildly spiced with measures for which India’s soft power is renowned for.

In Part III, Palit argues that China has been able to command a global pull while India lags behind. The absence of mention of the monetary resources required for India’s great soft power leap is conspicuous, as is that of China’s plethora of capital. In fact, according to David Shambaugh, China spends in the region of $10 billion per year on “external propaganda”. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) had a paltry budget of $1.92 billion in comparison (2015-2016).

What Palit has left out is that India does not feel the need to struggle for acceptance and friendship among the international community. Its diaspora, cultural history, literature and religious centres are soft power magnets in themselves. China, with all its expenditure, is mainly trying to garner support for its own strategic pursuits. Without these propagandist traits, China will lose out entirely to the U.S.

(Asma Masood is a Research Officer with the Chennai Centre for China Studies, India. She can be contacted at Twitter: @asmamasood11. The views expressed are the author’s own.)

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