Soft power is defined as a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence, especially in regards to media, education, history, art and literature.
In contrast, the United States has had a dominance in the last 50 years in its exertion of hard power, which is through the use of its military force and aggression towards nations that subvert its control of the fossil fuels industries. Much of the War on Terror and jihadist uprisings could be argued by analysts as a direct result against the U.S.'s seizing of the natural resources of other nations.
However, as the world's energy supply is diversifying and making a shift towards solar, hydroelectric nanotechnology and other forms of renewable energy, much of the foreign invasions into other nations have caused a severe rift in U.S. influence and soft power as the U.S. continues to outspend its military expenditures vs. its GDP (gross domestic product), many scholars and economists have commented on the eventual decline of the United States. Although the Obama administration had attempted to remedy the U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, much of those gains have been lost by the actions of the Trump administration, whose foreign policy is seemingly appearing more radical by the day as a warmongering nation.
Whilst the United States has been busily tearing down other nations and launching missiles, all in the name of "democracy," China has plans to do the complete opposite: to connect Europe, Asia and Africa with new trade routes named One Belt, One Road, a direct historical reference to its Silk Road from 120 BCE to the 15th century. The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that were central to the cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent to the Mediterranean Sea.
Silk Road 2.0: One Belt, One Road. China's plans to invest in the building of new ports, routes, high speed rail, energy lines and infrastructure to connect Asia, Europe and Africa could change global trade. To complement its physical route, China also plans to implement a digital silk road, to facilitate open trade between nations.
Through the Silk Road, and open trade between nations, it became one of the primary drivers of the rise of the first British Empire. Import and export of exotic spices, textiles, fine china, as well as the spread of religions, philosophies and various technologies were the main advances from the open network of the Silk Road.
Still Life Tea Set by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789). Chinese teacups and fine bone china were first introduced to the U.K. and Europe in the 17th century through international Old Maritime trade routes by the East India Company (a British company with head offices in Japan, China and India) and became a staple of upper class life until the 19th century Victorian era, when the British mass produced fine bone china to make it available for the general population during the Industrial Revolution when Britain led the way in manufacturing.
As China is gearing up to build Silk Road 2.0 in the contemporary era, this opportunity has immense potential for the rise of British soft power. Post-Brexit, the U.K. has found itself in a precarious position with no allies in Europe, followed by its diplomatic blunders in its control of Gibraltar. If trade agreements do not eventually materialise, it could very well be a hard transition for the U.K. as it attempts to re-establish its role in Europe and abroad if other nations only view the U.K. as simply, an ancillary, military sidekick of a declining economic power lead by the erratic and warmongering tactics of the Trump administration.
The first freight train from China to the UK made its first journey across 9 countries in Jan 2017.
Former PM David Cameron and former Chancellor George Osborne understood the future ramifications of the rise of British soft power, and embraced the East, paving the path for diplomatic relations between the U.K. and a rising China, leading to billions in investments by Chinese corporations into the U.K. and culminating with the launch of sovereign debt of their currency, renminbi (RMB) in London.
Lessons from the first British Empire have striking consequences to what the United States is currently facing - that hard power, and military might doesn't necessarily equate global dominance, and eventually leads to economic decline. As the U.S. is sending off cruise missiles to Syria, diverting funds once again, away from their own population, and ignoring their domestic problems, China is planning to invest in the infrastructure of developing nations by building ports and transportation routes via the implementation of high speed rails that will connect Eurasia and Africa.
In 2015 (right) the total military expenditures for the U.S. were nearly twice its GDP, a pattern that is becoming eerily similar to the USSR in 1950 (left) before its eventual collapse in 1991.
Due to a lack of U.S.' soft power in East Asia, coupled with a growing resentment over its military presence, and its foreign policies, the U.S. govt has prevented its businesses from successfully penetrating the Asian markets, with the unique exception of Apple in Japan (as Steve Jobs and Softbank founder Masayoshi Son developed close ties based on a mutual appreciation and respect of cultural ties in the early 2000s). Whereas the United States' subversive foreign policies have created stronger resentment towards U.S. businesses in Asia and the Middle East, stronger cultural and economic ties between the East Asian nations and the U.K. could catapult U.K. startups and businesses to have an open network with China and beyond, leading to the rise of the British economy.
Uber's failure in China is symbolic of U.S. foreign policy towards China. Much of the resentment towards U.S. businesses in Asia is directly derivative of the foreign and economic policies of the U.S. govt post-Bush to "contain" a rising China, preventing U.S. businesses from successful penetration of the Asian markets. Whereas during the Clinton Era, President Bill Clinton opened a relationship with China and created wealth for American businesses, the Trump Administration is choosing to do the opposite and has taken his administration's anti-China policies further by alienating Asia, potentially engaging in a trade war, and risking the future of U.S. businesses' ability to enter the Asian markets.
Hong Kong and Singapore could be established models for how the British can utilise its soft power in East Asia. As two former British colonies, Hong Kong and Singapore still have many lasting influences from British soft power, namely through its educational systems. British influence in both nations lead to the education of girls during an era when women were excluded from schools, a bi-cultural education based on both Western and Eastern philosophies, a bilingual education that did not attempt to stamp out Eastern traditions, and the implementation of human rights protections. Many legacies of the British Empire in both nations lead to its economic rise as financial centres. Currently, Hong Kong and Singapore are two of the top 15 nations to have the highest GDP per capita (PPP) via purchasing power in the world, ahead of the United States.
As British soft power in the East could make China a more culturally viable entity to the rest of liberal Europe, who might view China as a dangerous authoritarian regime, a U.K.+ China relationship could nullify each other's weaknesses and support a ying and yang balance that complements its economic and cultural ties. One of China's previous setbacks had been in the construction of Poland's A2 highway that resulted in a debacle due to China's lack of knowledge in E.U. construction codes and certifications, whereas the U.K. has both a unique understanding of policy and heralds award winning expertise in infrastructure, architecture, design and urban planning. The U.K., and also Germany, France and other European nations have already backed the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), but Great Britain can take it one step forward to become China's primary diplomatic and economic partner in its infrastructure development of the One Belt, One Road plan in the European Union.
"It never is comfortable, when a major new power appears on the world scene, think of Bismarck's Germany, or even the United States at the turn of the Century, but we can't and should not want to stop China's rise; we shouldn't want to try to contain it, as so many armchair strategists in the United States demand. We should engage China...China is going to be a giant and it is our job, I think, to ensure as far as possible that it is a benevolent giant." -Lord Powell
Click here to play. Lord Powell at the University of Oxford. He states that the 21st century will belong to Asia as a continent. He says that China's remarkable economic growth over the last 30 years will continue to happen resulting in China becoming the largest economy in the world. Lord Powell was the Former Private Secretary and foreign adviser to both Margaret Thatcher and John Major and serves as the President of the China-Britain Business Council. He was also a 'mentor' to Guagua Bo, the son of controversial former Communist Party official Bo Xilai.
The two main obstacles of China's rise that Lord Powell has argued will be its 1) authoritarian regime and 2) its inward focus, in that China has never engaged the rest of the world and has been fairly self-sufficient. However, with China's New Silk Road 2.0 plan, it appears that China has been listening.
Moreover, a U.K.+ China relationship would pave the path for Britain to regain access to Europe after Brexit and an opportunity for U.K. businesses to expand into Asia.
As many U.K. scholars and advisers have noted, the 21st century will belong to China, and it is to the advantage of Great Britain to use its soft power to influence the East, especially in regards to the issues in which the U.K. have set historical legal precedents, namely those relating to human rights, gender equality, labour laws, and education in which Great Britain has always been the first to lead; to shape China's authoritarian regime to appeal to Europe's liberal philosophies. Through its influence in education, art, media, literature, philosophy and technology, an economic and cultural marriage between the two nations could potentially lead to the rise of the second British Empire, one that has learned from its past history of military imperalism, and instead utilises its soft power to yield an open network of knowledge and technology in the era of the Silk Road 2.0.
By Sierra Choi